Full of Life, Wisdom, and a Love of Surprise

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Issue 8, Volume 112

By Frances Schwarz 

Cover Image

The next time you’re getting your lunch from the Stuyvesant cafeteria, look into the big window opposite the doorway and to your right, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a woman sitting in an office behind the glass. That’s Khudija Eddahbi, assistant manager of the school kitchen. She works with the food service assistants, the assistant cook, and her manager to keep the kitchen running and make sure every student gets their food.

Born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco, Eddahbi moved to Florida, stayed in Germany for a couple of months to receive her training, lived in Florida again for a year, and finally settled in New York, where she’s lived for 31 years. “I like it [in New York]. Most of my life is here,” she said. She still holds her home in Morocco close, however. “Like a person when they get married—they don't forget their mom, but they still love their wife,” she said with a laugh.

Eddahbi started cooking when she was a child to help her mom, who worked full time to run her beauty salon. “That’s part of the custom [in Morocco]. They like to teach the kids when they're young, so that way they learn how to cook,” she said. Since then, she went to cooking school, worked at Disney, and catered for many years. She eventually became a school cook to spend more time with her kids.

Every day, Eddahbi manages food deliveries and portion sizes, works with the food service assistants and the assistant cook, assists her manager, and ultimately makes sure everyone gets enough food. Her main challenge is keeping track of how much food they have to make and serve. “Each thing—like the vegetable, one cup, this is three ounces, this is six ounces–—each thing is different,” said Eddahbi, pointing to tables of numbers and ingredients inside of a large black binder. “So the ladies, they have to keep up with that.” If the lunch ladies serve too much or too little food for each student, or if the cooks don’t make the right amount, then food either runs out by eighth period or ends up in the trash. Additional challenges arise in foods that can’t be batch cooked or cooked on the spot, and that students don’t have to swipe into the cafeteria anymore, making it harder to keep track of how much food they need to make.

Despite these challenges, she still feels grateful to her colleagues. “We have a good team here,” she said. “Everybody helps each other, we're not like, ‘Now this is mine, this is yours,’” she said. “I like the school, everybody. I mean, I get along with everybody out there.” Her coworkers seem to appreciate her, too. For Christmas one year, all of the food service assistants pooled money together to buy Eddahbi a Nook. Another time, she found a piece of paper from her former manager with a big smiley face that thanked her for being a good cook and included a chocolate bar.

She finds her job most rewarding when the students enjoy the food. “Some kids, they come back and say, ‘Oh, that was good. That was fine,’ [and] so the ladies, they'll be happy, they’ll come and say, ‘Oh, this kid, they came, and they liked the food,’ and stuff like that,” Eddahbi said. “When we see smiles on the kids, that’s the main thing.”

Outside of her job, she likes to swim, bike, cook, read, and write poetry. She mainly reads religious books in Arabic. “I’m really trying to do my best,” she said, with a laugh, when asked about her religious status.

When asked what she is most passionate about, Eddahbi replied without hesitation: “Meeting people. Try to get together. I like to surprise people—birthdays or parties, stuff like that.” She loves her mom (“That’s at the top of everything”) and her two children: a daughter, currently working as a substitute teacher while in graduate school, and a son in his first year of college.