Friday, August 2 was a bittersweet day at Fun Time Academy, as goodbyes were said to kitchen manager, Laverne Taylor. After 20 dedicated years, the last 13 overseeing meals and snacks for hungry students, Miss Laverne retired. Ms. Taylor remembers starting her employment with us as a teacher for a few years in the portables before the current facility was built, upon which she moved into the kitchen and food management, “I had been there six or seven years and no one was happy with the catered food,” she remembers. “The kids weren’t eating it and it was important for the kids to eat decent meals, so I took over.” She discovered the wonders of ranch dressing to get the kids to eat fresh vegetables. These days, the menu has successfully expanded to include salads and shepherd’s pie. She’s even found success with fresh spinach salad, again thanks to the ranch! 

Pleasing everyone’s palate has been the biggest challenge, Ms. Taylor says. “Some of the kids may not be used to our type of cooking. They’re only used to what their parents cook at home.” Besides cooking for the kids, her favorite memories are taking the food into the classrooms and hearing the students say how good the food is. “The kids are the biggest highlight,” she smiles, “No matter how bad the day started out, when the kids come over, give me a hug and tell me, ‘I love you’, it just brightens my day.”

Former kitchen summer employee Linda Clay remembers what a joy Miss Laverne always was to work with, “Laverne was always very helpful and specific. If there was any food left over, she’d make sure the older kids got it since they had bigger appetites. She was extra considerate for the kids’ needs; a very gentle, very kind and very dependable part of that community.”

As for what lies ahead, Miss Laverne says she’s looking forward to just getting some rest after 20 years of getting up at 3:00am to drive to Naples from Immokalee. She and her fiancée have bought 20 acres of property in North Florida and are looking forward to building a home there. 

Her replacement, Robert Sanacora, knows the shoes he has to fill, but is well prepared for the challenge. A native of Long Island, New York, Mr. Sanacora has worked in culinary since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York in 1996. Since moving to southwest Florida 18 years ago, he’s always worked the typical punishing schedule demanded at country clubs. As Fun Time’s new kitchen manager, he’s looking forward to a more typical work week.

Mr. Robert is looking forward to the joy and responsibility of cooking for the children and helping them develop varied palates and eating habits. Adding that with his nights and weekends free, he’s going to write that book.

Let’s get to the real “meat” of the information, here. How is your mac n’ cheese, Chef Sanacora? He laughs, “We make our mac n cheese from scratch, and being from New York, my pizzas aren’t too bad. I just want to find out what the kids really enjoy, then I can cater to them and make sure they’re happy every day, as well as getting the right nutrition.”

Realizing that he’s inherited a very organized, spotless kitchen, Robert is committed to keeping it up to Laverne’s standards, indicating that his focus is on delicious, nutritious food, “ I’m going to make sure that the kids are getting the proper portions for their age group. I’m hoping to bring in some salads and nice protein, with vegetables and cheeses mixed into it. Laverne said the kids love salad and I’m hoping to make it into an entrée.”

Mr. Robert is looking forward to his new challenge “I really feel I’m going to enjoy it here,” adding with a smile, “My wife is going to appreciate it a lot too. She’s been holding down the fort for the last two decades.” 

Ms. Taylor recalls some favorite Fun Time memories, “A board member had on a Frosty the Snowman costume at Christmas. It brought back memories from when I was a little girl . . . moving into the new building was really a great joy. I told Robert everyone is different and don’t worry about trying to cook like me. Just keep in mind that these are kids so don’t come up with anything fancy.” She adds that so far he’s done a great job and to remember sometimes if he has a moment to go in the classroom during lunch and talk to the kids about the food. 

We’ll miss you, Miss Laverne, and welcome aboard, Mr. Robert!