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Faces Behind the Food

Lunch ladies Amber Davis and Anna Paradise share a friendship, passion for food and appreciation of music.

Lunch+ladies+Amber+Davis+and+Anna+Paradise+pose+together+after+serving+lunch+in+the+school+cafeteria.
Lunch ladies Amber Davis and Anna Paradise pose together after serving lunch in the school cafeteria.

Lunch ladies Amber Davis and Anna Paradise pose together after serving lunch in the school cafeteria.

Anna Tomka

Anna Tomka

Lunch ladies Amber Davis and Anna Paradise pose together after serving lunch in the school cafeteria.

Anna Tomka, Print Managing Editor

As students saunter into school early each morning, the cafeteria is brought to life by a speaker in the kitchen playing boisterous music from a plethora of diverse genres. Mouthwatering scents flood the room and hint passers-by that fresh food is starting to be prepared. Lunch ladies Amber Davis and Anna Paradise are responsible for the lively tunes as well as the savory aromas that travel out the cafeteria doors and into the crowded halls. Davis and Paradise are known for their culinary skills, but many are unaware of their taste for music and tight bond outside of school.

The close-knit pair never encounters the same, unchallenging day. Two to three times a week, Davis and Paradise unload around six to seven hundred dollars worth of food from Restaurant Depot. They work side-by-side to distribute about 100 meals every day, and the two do their best to provide the finest ingredients for their consumers by seeking out distributors who work closely with local farms. Davis and Paradise enjoy traveling to the Kansas City River Market on Sundays together to search for new healthy and local food options. 

“We want to teach kids to eat healthier and branch out. When I was in college, I was never prepared to make those smart choices when it came to eating,” Davis said. “No one prepares you guys to be on your own. We want to teach girls things like how simply adding olive oil on broccoli can make it just as tasty as an Easy Mac while remaining much more nutritious.”

 

Submitted by Anna Paradise
Anna Paradise and Amber Davis take a selfie at the River Market shopping for ingredients.

Educating students about the importance of their food choices means a lot to the pair of women, who strive to cook as organically as possible, especially in the springtime. McGonigle’s Market often supplies their meat and Farm To Market Bread Co. their bread. In addition to Restaurant Depot, Whole Foods and Natural Grocers are two of their other favorite grocery stores to shop at. All this hard work to provide quality meals pays off when they view the students finishing their food.

 

“Our Instagram is @lunchladiezofsion and our Snapchat is @lunchladiez. We love receiving feedback on our food and listening to what the students don’t like or do like,” Paradise said. “Please don’t be afraid to come up to us and tell us what you think of the food. We want to know if you guys like the food the most.”

The two created social media platforms to give students the chance to see behind the scenes action. They show what kind of work is involved in their cooking process. Paradise often posts Snapchat stories of soup recipes and the steps to produce them. Davis uses Instagram and Snapchat to share videos of them being themselves: singing, dancing and joking around.

“I really enjoy how real they are with us, and they talk to us like we’re their peers,” senior Mary Evans said. “Everyday, when I get my lunch, I’ll manage to fit in a dance or two to the songs they play. They don’t just feed me, but they give me confidence to be myself by posting their hilarious videos and pictures.”

Paradise and Davis have unique origin stories when it comes to how their passion for cooking surfaced. Davis grew up with her mother’s terrible cooking, which ultimately drove her to teach herself how to cook not only for her but for others too. She was also inspired by the Food Network that always played on her television and professional chefs such as Anthony Bourdain. Davis worked from the bottom of the food chain until she was asked to take over running the kitchen of a restaurant in downtown Kansas City called Milwaukee Delicatessen.

“Taking over that restaurant taught me that I never wanted to be in charge of another one again. Once you own your own kitchen, you don’t have much of a life after that,” Davis said. “Sion gives us more freedom.”

The best part of our job is being able to watch all of you guys grow.”

— Anna Paradise

Contrastingly, Paradise grew up alongside a family of talented cooks to learn and grow from. Her brother, Thomas Paradise, is a chef at Boru Ramen Bar in Kansas City and her sister, Elizabeth Paradise, is also an exceptional pastry chef at Story Restaurant in Prairie Village. Paradise works with her brother at Boru Ramen Bar and at Room 39. She participated in a lot of food-related side jobs where she learned from people more knowledgeable about food. As she worked these jobs, she realized cooking was a hobby she had a zest for.

“My family just has a background with food. I worked with food photography a little, and I read cookbooks like novels at home growing up,” Paradise said. “The Food Network was also my go-to show in high school.”

Music plays a crucial role in both Davis and Paradise’s lives, and it is something that they consistently bond over together. Both grew up loving boy bands such as NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. The duo is also musically gifted. Paradise plays the piano and Davis plays the ukulele. Their adoration of music is reflected in the songs that play continuously while they work.

“We listen to all different kinds of music and have the same taste,” Paradise said. “Except Amber likes songs from musicals and I don’t. She also hates my classical choir music.”

Submitted by Anna Paradise
Anna Paradise cooks for blank in her backyard.

In Davis’ free time, she cooks for concerts, works backstage catering and ensures dressing rooms are completely stocked for performing artists. Davis has worked backstage for Chance the Rapper, G-Eazy, Guns N’ Roses and plans to assist Post Malone this summer.

“I love music so being backstage at concerts is surreal. I worked for the Beach Boys, and I remember the conversation they had about how music just isn’t the same anymore with artists like Kanye. I love listening to older musician’s conversations,” Davis said.

Paradise utilizes her own free time to travel to foreign places while continuing to explore her fascination with food. Spain, France and Portugal are among her favorite destinations she has journeyed to. Paradise plans to travel to Paris for a second time later this year since the city contains her favorite foods. In addition, Paradise cooked for a retreat in Hawaii where she had the chance to encounter island life and live up close and personal with nature. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a worldwide association that encourages these educational retreats, which Paradise is familiar with.

“WWOOF is a program that allows you to do great things anywhere,” Paradise said. “I was able to learn a lot about local Hawaiian ingredients while living in a Yurt among the wildlife.”

Working in the lunch room has been a notable experience in itself for Davis and Paradise, who rarely spent time around high school students beforehand. The pair takes pleasure in educating the community about nutrition and working towards providing new food options in the future. Overall, the students are their favorite part about the school, according to Davis.

“I enjoy how small the school is and how every girl is comfortable in her own skin,” Paradise said. “The best part of our job is being able to watch all of you guys grow.”

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