As a former sous chef, Woodville Elementary School’s food service director Daniel Cano finds enjoyment in preparing nutritious meals for the children of the school, which he believes also helps them to make memories.
“I love food,” said Cano, 44, a Visalia resident, who was raised in Woodlake. “We have memories of what makes us happy from being a child to now and what made me happy (was) food.”
Cano said he started cooking early in life. He would call his mom when she was at work and ask her to tell him how to make chorizo and eggs because he didn’t want to eat cereal and he missed her breakfast burritos.
“I have always helped out in the kitchen with my mom,” he said. “Especially while she baked and I got to lick the spoon.”
Both of Cano’s grandfathers were also big influences on his love of cooking.
“From (then on) as I cooked, I remembered all of the aromas that would fill up the room as I was growing up as a child,” Cano said. “(When I was young), my grandfathers would watch me and they would be the ones in the kitchen cooking. So, I remember smells that would be filling up the kitchen area, or living room and then eat what they created. As I went to college, and eating out became expensive to do every day, I began calling my mom again and asking how to make my grandfathers’ or my mom’s food. From (then on) as I cooked, I remembered all the seasonings that would fill up the room I was in growing up as a child.”
After graduating from Woodlake High School, Cano moved to various coastal cities, such as San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, then Ventura. He attended various colleges and worked a variety of jobs. One job was at the Santa Barbara Inn where he worked as a valet manager and had the opportunity to meet movie stars.
When he was living in San Diego, Cano enrolled in the Art Institute of California — San Diego’s culinary school. While attending school in the evenings, Cano said he worked for the Wyndham North Hotels as a kitchen manager where he worked almost 12 hours a day.
“It was a very non-sleep time of my life, but I had bills to pay and was determined to graduate (from) culinary school,” he said. “After graduating culinary school, I wanted to work for other restaurants and learn more skills and techniques.”
Cano said he left his job and began working in a variety of restaurants and as he worked his way up in a restaurant he would then go to a different restaurant to learn a new menu and cuisine.
His last stop, before returning to the Central Valley where he had the dream of opening a restaurant, was to Ventura where he worked at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa Resort, which was awarded an AAA Five Diamond Award. He said he learned a lot from the chefs there and was also the junior sous chef for Maravilla Restaurant.
Cano said he came to Woodville in August 2016 from Sunnyside Elementary School where he prepared meals from scratch daily.
Cano is currently working on a couple of projects for Woodville Elementary, which includes the installation of a new serving line. Students will walk down the serving line in the current cafeteria, rather than having to enter the kitchen and walk through the serving line. Cano is also hoping to have a salad bar outside of the new serving line where students can help themselves to the various fixings, which will allow them to further customize their meal.
Not only is Cano working on projects to help improve food service in Woodville, he’s trying to make improvements on a state and national level as he serves as the Public Policy and Legislative Committee for the California School Nutrition Association — Central Cal Chapter 10. He said he has traveled to Sacramento and Washington D.C. to speak with various members of Congress about how they can help schools — not only in regards to funding, but also the passage of laws.
Cano said he loves his current job because he loves knowing children are eating because of the feelings he associates with cooking and food.
“How it made me feel in my childhood was really good,” Cano said. “Hanging out, seeing the whole family in the kitchen, laughing, making memories … I love to see the happiness food brings to us all. When I feed you I want to make sure that you were satisfied and if not, how can I make it better for you next time. I love going to a restaurant and eating something so good that it challenges me to go home and make it better.”