A familiar and friendly face in Schaden Dining Hall is stepping into an elevated role this year at Kent Denver. Juan Alvarez—who has been working on the Sodexo staff for the past nine years—was recently named head chef! He’ll be working closely with General Manager of Food Services Mark Luchetti and the rest of the amazing Dining Hall crew to create the school’s menu and prepare delicious meals for our students, faculty and staff every day—as well as catering for special school events that take place during the year.
“I’m really excited,” Alvarez told Kent Denver in an interview this week. “Before, I would cook lunch at my station. But now, I’m in charge of the menus. I help my coworkers make the food, and I help with the serving. I’m not in just one place—I’m everywhere now!”
When Alvarez started at Kent Denver nearly a decade ago, he was in charge of the salad bar. Since then, he’s worked in various roles around the kitchen. He’s become a well-known and beloved member of the KDS community, both for his famous taco, salsa and guacamole recipes—”There’s no secret!” he says, other than that “he makes it with love”—but also his kind demeanor and friendliness toward everyone he meets.
“The whole community—teachers, coworkers, kids, staff—it’s my favorite part of life,” Alvarez said. “Seeing people happy is so great.”
His bond with the people of Kent Denver was never more evident than back in 2019, when Alvarez was diagnosed with lymphoma. While he was away from work for several months getting treatment, the community rallied together to offer their love and support—sending letters of well wishes and even starting a GoFundMe to help cover his medical expenses.
“It helped me a lot. I’m never going to forget it,” Alvarez said. “I’m cancer free now! I go in once a year to get a scan, but thank God everything is clean.”
When asked about his favorite memories at Kent Denver, Alvarez always goes back to the people. Outside of simply preparing their food, he’s also enjoyed working with the students—helping them cook in their culinary classes and various “Iron Chef” type competitions over the years.
”It’s fun to help them, and the kids are always happy when they’re cooking,” Alvarez said.
More than anything though, he thinks of the seniors who would visit him in the Dining Hall on their last day of school.
“It’s always sad when they leave, but that’s the life [of working in a school],” Alvarez said. “I still have cards in my house from the kids. I save all of them. [Whether] it’s goodbye cards or Christmas cards, I love having all those memories.”
Outside of work, Alvarez enjoys playing volleyball (his favorite sport), watching sports on television and spending time with his family, including his niece, Giselle, who graduated from Kent Denver in 2018.
Of course, he’s got his Kent Denver family too, and the whole KDS community looks forward to spending more time with Alvarez as he starts this exciting new role!