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Nieto’s Executive Chef Turns Nursery School Cook, Temporarily

When the regular chef got injured, Nabor Vasquez offered to step in.

Students in the 4-year-old classroom are doing a unit on restaurants and have asked their volunteer chef, Nabor Vasquez, to help teach them what they need to know. Courtesy of: Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center
Students in the 4-year-old classroom are doing a unit on restaurants and have asked their volunteer chef, Nabor Vasquez, to help teach them what they need to know. Courtesy of: Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center


Toddlers aren’t necessarily known for their discerning palate. But it’s still a large task to serve 80 of them a day.

So when the regular cook at the Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center fell and broke her wrist a week ago, Executive Director Pam Carlson knew she needed some temporary help in the kitchen.

She sent out word through the center’s families, which reached Nabor Vasquez, executive chef at the upscale Nieto’s in Highland Park. Vasquez knows Community well. His son, who is now in high school, went there and loved it.

Vasquez offered to fill in for two weeks, serving pasta and sliced fruit by day and braised shortribs and grilled salmon at night.

“I love it,” he said, on day four of his new volunteer job.

He’s serving breakfast, lunch and two snacks to 60-80 kids a day, without the regular restaurant trappings of a dishwasher and sous chef.

“Nabor has been telling me that he’s used to making plates one at a time that are small and beautiful,” Carlson said. “Here we make lots of food and have to serve it all at once.”

But he’s bringing his upscale dining touch to the tots. Carlson says the regular pasta and meat sauce tastes just a bit different. And their orange slices, which are normally served from a bowl, were arranged beautifully on a plate.

Next week, Vasquez, who has worked for Carlos and Debbie Nieto for 18 years, will take a turn in the classroom as well. The 4-year-old classroom has been doing a unit on restaurants and sent him a letter, requesting that he come visit and give them a lesson on how to be a chef. One of the specific demonstrations asked for: how to cut a cucumber.

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