There likely is no person in Steamboat Springs who is under more pressure each day to successfully cook a meal than Max Huppert.
“There’s not a lot of wiggle room when you’re making a dish for 600 people,” the Steamboat Springs School District’s top chef says during the second-to-last week of school.
But the daily pressure of feeding hundreds of students has not stopped Huppert from delivering kids new and interesting dishes. And sometimes, he’s cooking them for the first time. “We’re bold like that,” he says.
As the school district’s director of nutritional services, Huppert has earned the bold mantra. And he strives to do things no other school cooks in the country are doing.
Vietnamese. Asian. African. American. Global, hard-to-spell dishes made from scratch and rich in flavor are common on the district’s menu. Students also have enjoyed bison dogs and good ol’ fashioned hamburgers, made from local beef, of course.
“Experience helps to put it together,” Huppert says.
This school year, Huppert and his staff added gluten-free breads to the menu. They’re also pondering whether to make all of their own condiments.
Huppert’s journey to the helm of the school district’s food program started in the ’90s following his service in the Navy.
He says upon his departure, he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“My dad said you can always get a job working at a restaurant cooking,” he says.
Then it was off to a culinary college in Baltimore. He did his cooking externship in Germany and also cooked in Greece on the island of Crete. After a few years in Europe, he bought a Jeep and drove to Steamboat, where he started working at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
He then started cooking for Colorado Mountain College before taking on a few more jobs and finally settling at the schools.
“The kids are good, and it’s fun just trying to see what you can get them to try,” Huppert says. “The elementary school kids are the easiest for that. They are more open to try new things. Once you start getting to the middle and high school, they want to start going toward the fast food.”
Today, he lives in Oak Creek with his wife, Camilla, and his sons Loke and Vidar.
With Huppert’s menu, the students in the district are encouraged to eat healthy. “Our main thing is not necessarily getting rid of all the fat and sugar but getting rid of all the processed items,” he says. “Everything we use is clean.”
This school year, Huppert and his cooking staff of 10 served Steamboat’s students 130,000 hot entrees. To do that requires a dedicated team.
“I have a really, really good staff,” Huppert says. “That’s another reason we’re able to do what we do.” ■