Renegade Lunch Lady, Chef: Ann Cooper

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children’s health and wellness.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY, Ann has been a chef for more than 30 years including positions with Holland America Cruises, Radisson Hotels, Telluride Ski Resort as well as serving as Executive Chef at the renowned Putney Inn in Vermont. She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek , and Time Magazine and  has appeared on NPR’s ‘Living on Earth,’ ABC’s Nightline, CNNPBS’ To The Contrary and the CBS Morning Show and many other media outlets. Ann has shared her knowledge and experience by speaking at the Smithsonian Institute, the National Restaurant Association, the Heifer Foundation, Chefs Collaborative, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and numerous conferences. She has been honored by SLOW Food USA, selected as a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, and awarded an honorary doctorate from SUNY Cobleskill for her work on sustainable agriculture.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Passionate – Driven – Happy.

What is your life motto?  Just do it!

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I started in 1973 and attained true lasting success by about 1980.

How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? 24/7 – for years

Describe how difficult the business really is? Changing school food is not for the faint of heart – this is possibly the hardest job I’ve ever had.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Putting ego before actual knowledge and abilities is the road to failure.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Taste everything with equal measure: life, love and food. 

In your mind, is formal training essential? Yes – but this can happen in an academic institution or on the job. 

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Yes it can be.  Find someone you look up to & respect, come up with a plan and then approach them.

What are some steps those starting out can take to start/further their career? Work hard, listen constantly, taste everything and reach for the stars.

What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Believing that I’m making a difference for children all across the country.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? Not necessarily – but it is about being a risk-taker.

See more of Ann on TED or her websites: Chef Ann, The Lunch Box or
Salad Bars 2 Schools


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