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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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USDA Extends Free Meal Program

The Abbey Group is thrilled to announce that the USDA recently released the extension of their free meal program for the remainder of 2020. This allows us to serve completely free and nutritious meals to all children, regardless of their situation, until the end of the year. 

We know that many families were and continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the 2020-2021 school year, The Abbey Group recognizes that our children are learning in completely new environments. With the stress of adapting to long-term remote learning, hybrid model teaching, and various other changes to our normal routine, this move by the USDA allows us to help remove one key stressor: feeding our children. Whether that be in the cafeteria, in the classroom, or at home, The Abbey Group deeply values the importance of a nutritious and filling meal. Quality nutrition has the power to help kids stay focused and do their best work under both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances.

The program is completely free to all children under the age of 18 with no application required. Parents and guardians can also choose to pick up meals for their children. Families are encouraged to complete free or reduced meal cost applications for future meal service beginning in 2021.

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USDA Farmers to Families Contract Extended!

When The Abbey Group was chosen by the USDA to be a Farmers to Families Food Box Program distributor at the beginning of May, it was hard to fully imagine the impact that this program could have on our friends and neighbors in need. Since starting distribution over five weeks ago, we have served hundreds of thousands of boxes of food to thousands of local families. This has amounted to approximately 2.4 million pounds of perishable food. Given the initial program end date of June 30th, The Abbey Group can proudly say that our contract with the USDA has been extended to the end of August. 


The USDA has contracted with the Abbey Group to distribute over 2,700,000 pounds of food (266,000 boxes) to Vermont families. In collaboration with the state of Vermont and the Vermont Foodbank, food boxes of mixed cheese and butter, Brakebush chicken, fresh produce, and milk from HPHood Dairy, Monument Farms Dairy, Thomas Dairy and Kingdom Creamery will continue to be distributed between July 1 through August 31st.


In this next round of distribution, 440,000 pounds of VT produce is planned to be handed out. Reinhart Food Service, Black River Produce, Green Mountain Farm to School, Healthy Roots Collaborative, the Center for Agricultural Economy and Deep Root Organics are valued partners in this project.


Additional Information

For more information regarding the Farmers to Families Food Box Program visit the USDA’s website.

Founded in 1982, The Abbey Group is a family-owned food service management company. We specialize in handcrafted foods that use local ingredients. For more information visit The Abbey Group website.

For upcoming program pick-up locations and information, follow The Abbey Group on Facebook and Twitter.

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Abbey Group Awarded Farmers to Families Food Box Program Contract

The Abbey Group is proud to announce that on May 8th, 2020, we were selected to participate in the federal Farmers to Families Food Box Program. We are one of two contractors for the state of Vermont to earn this recognition. In April of 2020, the USDA announced the unprecedented program with the purpose of supplying locally sourced food to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vermont Foodbank, the Vermont National Guard, the Healthy Roots Collaborative, Green Mountain Farm to School and various local dairy processors worked collaboratively with The Abbey Group to craft the bid.

In a recent University of Vermont study, it was estimated that food insecurity rose 33% due to the current pandemic. The rapidly changing employment status of Vermont’s residents is largely to blame for this increase. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program aims to ensure food security for families in need. The program is in effect for the duration of May and June, with the possibility of extension. The program functions by connecting local farmers distributors. These farmers and distributors previously would have been working with restaurants and bulk purchasers. Distributors then package and supply family-sized food boxes to local contractors, such as The Abbey Group. Local contractors then distribute those boxes to those in need. Before the announcement of this program, The Abbey Group has been working tirelessly to provide wholesome meals to kids under 18, through their local schools since their closure in March.


Our Commitment to Local

The Abbey Group is no stranger to connecting local farmers to local families. As a food service group whose mission is to deliver the highest quality meals, utilize agricultural products from local growers, promote healthy choices and demonstrate a high level of customer service, The Abbey Group has the homegrown infrastructure and knowledge to help the Farmers to Families Food Box Program serve for our fellow Vermonters during this time of uncertainty.

For years, The Abbey Group has worked with a variety of local food producers both directly and indirectly. We do our best to prioritize direct relationships with these farms and producers whenever possible. Partnerships are solidified after satisfactory site inspections by our experienced personnel. The Farmers to Families Food Box Program has created an opportunity to call on our relationships with local producers to expand our reach. The Abbey Group is excited to step up and support our neighbors with the aid provided by the program. Abbey Thomas of Thomas Dairy noted that “participating in these events will really help in using excess milk supply that we are experiencing due to the pandemic’s burden on many of our customers. The effort, true to our little state, comes full circle; Vermonters helping Vermonters.”


Our first pick-up event will take place Friday, May 15th, 2020 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at the Edward F. Knapp State Airport.


Additional InformationEdward F. Knapp Farmers to Families Poster 2020

For more information regarding the Farmers to Families Food Box Program visit the USDA’s website.

Founded in 1982, The Abbey Group is a family-owned food service management company. We specialize in handcrafted foods that use local ingredients. For more information visit The Abbey Group website.

For upcoming program pick-up locations and information, follow The Abbey Group’s Farmers to Families Twitter page.

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