By Kenya McCullum
ACF Chef Jason Pooker entered the culinary field over a decade ago after working in lighting and sound design. His cooking travels have taken him to destinations like restaurants and country clubs, and now his road to success has brought him to his current position at trucking company Prime Inc. In this job, Chef Pooker runs the North Star Grill — the company’s in-house cafeteria — where 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he and his team serve a thousand meals to truckers making pit stops on their routes, as well as in-house staff. We spoke to Chef Pooker about how he’s able to feed so many colleagues every day of the year.
Q: What do you have on your normal menu at the North Star Grill?
A: My main line is broken down into a couple different sections. Our main focus is what we call our “scoop line” and it’s basically just a hot service line. I run a four-week cycle menu on there, so we do three entrees a day, Monday through Friday, and two entrees a day on the weekend. Those change every day and then just come back around once every four weeks. Like today, our eight-ounce strip steak, butterfly panco breaded shrimp, and teriyaki chicken bowl are the three entrees.
Q: How do you come up with those ideas?
A: We’ve got a couple of different theme days that we run throughout the week. So Tuesday is kind of like grandma’s home cooking. We do homemade meatloaf on Tuesdays. We do a buttermilk fried chicken, homemade pot pies, homemade shepherd’s pies, and chicken parmesan — stuff like that. Thursday is kind of Mexican; we rotate between tacos, taco salad, nachos, and a chicken carnitas bowl. Then Fridays we do barbecue, so we do house smoked pork spare ribs, sliced brisket, and pulled pork. That’s our theme for those days and where a lot of our sales go to.
Q: Do you find it difficult to be creative since you’re working on such a big scale?
A: Not really. I can find ways to make things work. Sometimes I have to be a little bit of a MacGyver on some recipes, but so long as I’m making people happy and I’m hitting my points, my accounting office is happy with me. That’s all that really matters. I’ve found ways to be creative in a lot of different outlets. Some of the things that I like to do — and have gotten a lot of good feedback on — is that in our self-serve, pay by weight salad bar, and we’ve got a couple of slots on there that I’ll make some specialty salads, so I’ll do a pasta or potato salad. I’ve really gotten into playing around making a kimchi of different varieties. I made a watermelon kimchi a couple of weeks ago that sold out in four days on the salad bar. It was a big shock to me when I walked in and went, “Oh, I’m out of kimchi and I have to make more.” But it’s a pleasant surprise when things like that happen.
Q: What are some challenges you face in this job compared to other culinary jobs you’ve had?
A: I’d say one of the biggest challenges is the volume. I’ve been here with Prime now for just over two years, and there are still days that absolutely boggle my brain on how much food we go through. We get trucks from our purveyors twice a week every Tuesday and Friday, and our average groceries on each truck day is about 400 cases. We have about a 90% turnover on our inventory every month. There’s not much that stays here and stays in inventory for more than a month. Having the staff I have working with me helps to alleviate a lot of the craziness of that because they all know what their roles are and they make sure that we’ve got the product we need and got the prep work done to where we can make sure people are fed.