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Chef’s Corner with Sarah Bishop

Chef Sarah Bishop

Our Director of Marketing, Cassie Fraser, recently sat down virtually to interview our talented Northfield Middle & High School chef, Sarah Bishop. Read on to get to know her!

Cassie: To get us started, what is your favorite dish to cook or bake?

Sarah: Having a favorite food is like picking a favorite child and it also depends on the day of the week, it changes on a daily basis, I think. One thing that I really like doing recently is smoking stuff. I bought a smoker during COVID and I do a lot of smoked pork, turkey, salmon. Haven’t had a chance to use it recently but that’s something I really enjoy doing and creating new stuff with rubs.

C: What is your least favorite food?

S: My mother made us try everything, literally everything. Just try it, you don’t have to like it but just try it. And the one thing I just would not try was cow’s tongue. Basically, I proved that I was not capable of eating it because I just about threw up on the dining room table. This was when I was about five.

C: I feel like that’s fair, and even the fact that you tried it as a five-year-old is impressive in my book.

S: She made the mistake of showing it to me before she cooked it and it was this giant cow’s tongue. And I am like I am not gonna eat that. No, not gonna happen. That was the only thing that I really, really did not like.

C: Like I said, I feel like that’s totally fair. Most people say something like brussels sprouts.

S: Love brussels sprouts! Love mushrooms, you know, all the good stuff.

C: Is there something else you thought wanted to do other than being a chef?

S: Yea, I think the one class that I did incredibly well at in high school was anthropology. I was not a good school student, but I was fascinated by people. I like watching people and how they interact, and why do they do the things they do. It’s a fascinating thing that I would love to delve deeper into at some point. That’s probably what I would have excelled at had I gone to college.

C: So what was it that made you realize you were passionate about cooking?

S: Well having started at a really young age, I think it was something that as a job in high school and shortly after high school is getting a job in a kitchen and realizing that I am really good at this and I had a lot of background. My mother worked for Julia Child and she was teaching me how to do soups and stocks, and showing me techniques that I took for granted because I thought “Oh, every kid must know how to do this.”

C: Definitely not!

S: Right, right. But it’s an artform, it’s something where you can be super creative. It’s grueling and I love a challenge.

C: And now what led you to your job at Northfield?

S: So originally [Executive Food Service Director] Bob Hildebrand hired me to be the chef at the [Vermont] state house in the cafeteria at the Capitol. Of course, that closed shortly after for COVID. I was there less than a year before COVID hit and did not reopen until recently. So last April Bob called me up and says “Well, how about Northfield – a school job?” And I was like, “You know what, I could dig that!” I know when my vacations are, which is something unusual in the food business. It’s a great schedule, and I was like “Yea, I’ll do it!” At my age, I have less than 10 years to go until I can retire so this is kind of the speed I want to drive right now.

C: Alright so what is the thing you love best about being a school chef?

S: At this particular school, it’s the people. There is a really great core group of people starting with the principal, Lee Ann [Monroe], who is so super cool and fun. She just brings a ray of sunshine every day when she comes in the kitchen. And that’s contagious. The kids are better behaved, I think, and they’re making school fun instead of this nerve-wracking challenge. It makes for a way better atmosphere.

C: And now what is your favorite thing to do when you’re not cooking?

S: Oh, I love to travel, do a lot of reading. You know, the usual.

C: So, what is the best advice you have ever received?

S: I think my dad, who knew me I think better than anybody, was always telling me not to hold things in. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or anything. Say what’s on your mind and just communicate well with everybody. But I think not being afraid to ask for help is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. You know I used to try to do everything myself, I don’t need any help, I’m a strong, independent woman, which is of course a bunch of nonsense.

C: That is absolutely something we should all be better at!

S: Being strong and independent is awesome, but knowing your limits is also pretty important.

C: That’s also a good little nugget. So now do you think being a chef is a natural talent or is it something that anyone learn?

S: Well, I think anyone can learn to cook. To become a chef is the next level. It’s an art form, it’s called culinary arts. So, in order to hit that next level, you need to be able to create constantly. I love change, I am not the kind of person who wants something so routine. I’m like nuh-uh, I’m bored, I gotta do something different. So, sort of having a canvas, if you will, to do something different every day is fantastic. You’re given eight different colors to work with, and if you can make something different every single day with those eight colors, you’re an artist.

C: I love that! That’s such a good perspective. Alright and my last question. What do you wish more people knew about your position?

S: I think in the schools, this is my first job in the public school system, or any school system, is that number one the schedule is fantastic. And for people, especially people my age, I think if you’re in a restaurant, you hit burnout. It’s stressful, it’s hard. And I think if more people understood that [being a school chef] is a great way to be creative, be a good chef, have a great schedule, and it’s super rewarding. This is a great position. Especially for parents, it’s such a great opportunity to go to work exactly when your kids [go to school]. But also in the food industry, it’s nights, weekends, it’s horrible schedules with people constantly calling out sick. There’s a dark underbelly to the restaurant business. And this is the polar opposite. It’s very positive, it’s a good, healthy environment.

Thank you, Sarah, for your delicious contributions to The Abbey Group!

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Abbey Group visits local school greenhouse

Middlebury Union HS Greenhouse

The latest installment in the “Our Partners in Fresh” video series is a bit different from the ones we’ve already done.

Middlebury Union High School science teacher Steve Colangeli approached the marketing department about the school’s alternative education program and the work it does in the school’s greenhouse. At the beginning of November, we paid them a visit.

Students in the program grow greens, lettuce, kale, etc…, harvest them and hand-deliver them to the cafeteria, where they are used in the salad bar. Many of our schools have similar partnerships.

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Food Connects to get $1,000 from The Abbey Group to better serve local schools

The Abbey Group has pledged to donate $1,000 to Food Connects, a Vermont-based non-profit that runs a Farm-to-School program and food hub.

“The Abbey Group has a long-standing commitment to supporting local food in our communities,” said David Underwood, CEO of The Abbey Group. “We enthusiastically give back to organizations that share those commitments.”

Food Connects seeks to build healthy families, thriving farms and connected communities, according to the organization’s website. Its farm-to-school program helps bring local, fresh ingredients into cafeterias around southern Vermont, as well as educate students about healthy food through hands-on engagement.

The Abbey Group does the same in its 100-plus schools across the region.

Last year, donations such as this one helped Food Connects to expand its food hub services into New Hampshire schools, to provide additional services in schools, and to grow the local economy through food system development.

“We can’t thank The Abbey Group enough for their generous support of our work,” said Richard Berkfield, executive director of Food Connects. “Their donation allows Food Connects to support more schools in increasing meal participation and local purchasing while simultaneously opening up new markets for our local farmers.”

The Abbey Group is a comprehensive food service management company based in Sheldon, Vermont. It provides meals at more than 100 schools across New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, and at several corporate and government food courts.

For more information on Food Connects and its programs, please visit

Stanley Blow III
Marketing Associate
The Abbey Group
(O): 800-696-4748, ext. 18

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Top Abbey Group executives get new positions

SHELDON, Vt. — As The Abbey Group continues to expand its influence into New Hampshire and Upstate New York, two high-ranking employees have gained new titles.

Scott Choiniere — the former vice president of operations — will now be the executive vice president of the company, and Nina Hansen — a longtime school nutrition specialist — will take over as VP of operations.

Choiniere said it’s hard to say exactly what he does, as he does just about everything. At its core, his job is a support role. He advocates for employees and goes wherever he is needed.

“I do what it takes to get the job done,” he said.

Sometimes that means helping an account get its computer point-of-sale system up and running. Other times, it means closing deals and helping the company grow into new markets.

Hansen is a 20-plus-year veteran of The Abbey Group. Among her many duties, she spearheads account development in both new and current accounts — training new managers and making sure they comply with US Department of Agriculture regulations. She also will continue to act as the food service director for Bellows Free Academy St. Albans, St. Albans Town Educational Center, St. Albans City School and the Winooski School District.

While their titles have changed, Choiniere and Hansen will continue to work closely with each other and the company’s network of food service directors to ensure all operations run smoothly.

The Abbey Group is a food service management company that dishes up thousands of healthy and delicious meals every day across Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. It works in more than 100 schools and a handful of corporate and government food courts, including the Capitol Food Court in Montpelier, Vermont.

Scott Schoiniere, Executive Vice President
Nina Hansen, Vice President of Operations

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