Pam in her "Happy Place" - the kitchen at the Mountain School

A Gorgeous View from Every Window

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Pam Mainville Retires from the Mountain School

Pam Mainville was “counting the days” before her last shift as the Mountain School’s weeknight chef actually came, but now that it has passed she says, “Retirement is going to be a BIG adjustment for me.” On June 11 Pam cooked her final meal in the kitchen with “a gorgeous view from every window,” which was part of what moved her to accept the weekend position there seventeen years ago.

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During that time, Pam became acquainted with famous chefs and food industry experts like chefs Mario Batali and Jonathon Waxman, Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, and Danny Meyer, owner of Shake Shacks. These friendships have brought her opportunities from appearing on the show Chew at the tasting table, to Gourmet weekends in New York City, to attending former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration with a Mountain School student’s family.

Pam compares kitchen crocs with Mario Batali

“People come and go. That’s the thing I struggle with the most.” Of the 1,430 students that have come and gone since she started, Pam said she remembers most of them. She was always assigned two on the Cook’s Crew, rotating every two weeks, helping to put out food, put food away and other related duties and cooking activities.

“Some kids knew their way around the kitchen, others didn’t, so they wanted to learn,” Pam observed. “Tuesday was chicken day so the students learned to cut up chicken. They all want to learn to bake desserts. Some want to learn the pull-apart bread and monkey bread, which is dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked in a bundt pan.”

Daniel worked with Pam every Tuesday during his semester at the Mountain School. He later continued cooking at home because both his parents worked so he decided to take on that chore, asking for Pam’s recipes to help him out. He wrote Pam a handwritten letter of appreciation that she treasures. He’s not the only student to emerge from the Mountain School kitchen with new inspiration in the world of food. Others have gone on to market gardening and catering. Pam notices that “kids are much more interested in where their food comes from” now than in the past.

Pam has adapted to gluten and lactose intolerance as well as vegetarian and vegan diets. She said the vegan challenge was the hardest, though usually there are just one or two students who avoid not only meat but all animal products. She also found that vegans were the "easiest to please because they were very grateful" for her efforts, and that they would often offer to help.

Other than strict vegans, learning to cook vegetarian dishes was generally the most difficult. “Food is always changing, so anything you can learn helps,” Pam advises. She took gluten-free baking classes at King Arthur Flour, for instance, where she learned new recipes for homemade brownies and cookies.

When I asked Pam if working at the Mountain School changed the way she eats, she replied that she was introduced to kale there, and previously “didn’t even know what curry was.” She still doesn’t particularly care for lamb, but has learned to prepare it well. She loves the scones made by Marilyn Covey (the Mountain School’s head cook, who is also retiring this summer) which were new to her as well. “I’m much more aware of local and organic food,” she emphasizes. Cooking in this context has been “a real eye opener for me.”

The Mountain School provides much of the food served to students and staff from their on-campus farm with students helping to raise & prepare their food.

It may have been a change of pace and scale, but Pam had a long history of cooking for others before taking this position, from raising food and putting by at home to feeding campers at the Vershire Riding School, and other jobs where she hand-dipped chocolates, made pizzas and worked in a deli.

“They were very sneaky,” she says of her seventeenth anniversary surprize party. “They gave me the night off for my anniversary, but I had to come in for dinner. They said, ‘Now we cook for you.’ I started to figure it out,” but she really wasn’t expecting the extent that her family, colleagues, friends and students went to in orchestrating this celebration. “Marilyn made a book with pictures of students, famous chefs, things the kids had written about me,” and her favorite panoramic kitchen view. The book was decorated front and back with images of a pig, Pam’s favorite animal.

What does retirement hold for Pam?  People often take up volunteer activities upon retirement, but Pam has already cooked for Vershire’s Senior/Community Lunch and the Vershire Summer Camp, and headed up the Vershire Community Library!  So now she’s “taking time to decide what to do next.” Meanwhile, besides traveling to catch up on invitations from former students and their families, she’ll be working on the cookbook people have been asking about for years. “It’s all written in a notebook by hand,” she says, with “recipes paper-clipped by category.”

What’s not likely to change are Pam’s natural inclinations, which are what have made her such a beloved member of the Mountain School community: “I love to cook and I love kids.”

Pam was certainly appreciated & will be missed at the Mountain School, but we're lucky to still count her among our neighbors in Vershire!

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