Chef Kenny serving up first-rate lunches at Lift for Life Academy

With 30 years of cooking professionally under his belt, Chef Kenny serves up first-rate items like turkey burgers, mahi-mahi and lots of vegetables for the students at Lift for Life Academy.
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For some of us, lunch was our best subject in school, even though the food was not that memorable.

For the students and faculty at Lift For Life Academy — a public Charter school on South Broadway — every day’s meals are first-rate. That’s because of Chef Kenny Hayden.

Chef Kenny has been cooking professionally for 30 years when he started as a prep cook at a café before working his way up to chef at several West County country clubs. For the past 10 years, he has been the head chef at the Academy.

His most popular item on the menu is his “made to order,” where the students can get specialty food items to be made on request.

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"It’s basically to show the kids all the different other kinds of foods that are available that they might not get a chance to taste," Kenny said.

And he comes up with various food themes to keep it interesting, Mexican, Italian, special sandwiches and salads.  And he said no junk foods.

“We do Jell-O’s, fruits, vegetables and grains," said Deputy Director Katrice Noble. "His 'made to order' is unique. What he serves on a daily basis, the students have an opportunity to pick and then there are opportunities for the made to order, now that's a level beyond what you would ever find at a school."

Students and staff like the variety and quality of the food from their chef.

"I think it's good, I’m so happy when it's lunch time,” said senior Imani Penny.

"He's amazing, he's really amazing," said senior Jerry Nunley. "He makes everything by scratch. Watching him inspires me to do more in my life and actually know how to cook because I have to provide for myself if I’m going to be a great man.”

Healthy, nutritious foods play an important role in the overall success of the students, especially if they are having any difficulties outside of the classroom.

"We want to make sure that at least food would not be an issue if you are dealing with stress and if you're dealing with trauma.  Healthy eating promotes thinking skills, it promotes better behavior, it promotes better health overall," said Noble.

Lift For Life Academy currently has about 600 students. They receive State funding as well as money from donors and from holding fundraisers. This allows them to offer free meals to all students. Their mission is to make sure that their students are academically and socially sound so that they are prepared for post-secondary education.