Two months in, Chef Tim Connors says he’s loving the job already
By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Tim Connors is so psyched about his new job as the Chartwells executive chef at Ann Arbor Public Schools that he can’t help but think back to what his father told him years ago.
“My father has been in the K12 cooking program for over 20 years and I should have listened to him a lot sooner,” says Connors, noting that his father had urged him to follow a similar career path years ago.
“So far, I am loving this.”
AAPS resident nutritionist Kristin Stewart says students will benefit from Connors’ innovative ideas when they return to the buildings in the fall, despite the confinement of strict guidelines.
“The USDA guidelines can be tough at times, almost like a puzzle, where we are trying to make food healthy and nutritious while being flavorful and appealing to our students,” says Stewart. “Chef Tim comes to us with the enthusiasm and innovative ideas needed to make nutritious food exciting and help break the stigma around school lunch.”
Beyond that, Stewart says she’s impressed with Connors’ enthusiasm for the job ahead.
“I have come across very few people who seem as passionate and as caring, as he is already in the short two months,” she says. “He is the kindest person to the staff and the kids, very much so willing to go above and beyond to make sure that our client, our students are happy with their meal service, it’s great.”
Connors, who lives in Redford but hopes to eventually move to Washtenaw County, knows his way around a kitchen.
“I’ve been in the kitchen my whole life,” says Connors, 36.
His first job was washing dishes once a week at The Country Epicure in Novi when he was 12—a job he kept for nine years, as his hours and role expanded. After graduating from high school in Farmington Hills, Connors enrolled in culinary school at Oakland Community College, attending its American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, while also working in the kitchen at Pinelake Country Club. After graduation, he went to for a teacher at The Country Club of Detroit under a chef who became the youngest master chef in the World at the time. Connors then worked in corporate dining and at Tam-O-Shanter Country Club before moving on to Macy’s.
“I was well on my way to doing well there, and then the pandemic started,” he says, noticing he was furloughed before he was laid off last June 30.
During COVID, he and his wife, Torri, and their children, Kevin, 18, Clare, 6, and Kalin, 4, took some road trips across the country and to his family’s cabin up north. Meanwhile, he was looking for the right fit that offered a good work-life balance he had been trying to find at Macy’s.
When he learned he’d gotten the Chartwells position with AAPS, he was “ecstatic.”
He says he looks forward to making students’ lunches more flavorful while staying within standards and regulations, which is a lot to learn.
“It’s going to be a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “I’m just trying to use everything I’ve learned in the past to bring to the district and just try to improve things to the best of my ability. As I learn and figure out what works and what doesn’t, I can only grow from there because it’s so different than anything I’ve ever done. This is different from corporate dining and country club cooking … It’s going to take me a minute to find my groove and improve where I can.”
Connors says he’s looking forward to enhancing the menu, occasionally bringing to the high schools “action stations” that would serve freshly made stir fry or omelets.
“We have a few ideas floating around and are just looking to see how I can improve quality and still stay within the guidelines of the USDA and my company, Chartwells,” he says.
Connors will be based out of Pioneer, but he expects to visit every school. One of his aunts, Mary Catherine Rudberg, is a teacher at Angell, and he looks forward to seeing her on a visit, demonstration, or catering event there.
His job as the executive chef will include overseeing catering, ordering, food demonstrations, execution of recipes, and writing menus, often with assistance from the food service staff.
Asked if he cooks much at home in Redford, Connors shrugs.
“Not as much as you’d think, but my wife doesn’t cook at all,” he says with a laugh. “So if I want anything extravagant, I have to do it myself.”
Sandy Short, the supervisor for AAPS Chartwells’ food distribution and school lunch program, says the addition of Connors has been nothing but positive.
“He works very well with the public,” she says. “He gets along very well with people, has very high standards, and is always looking for something new and innovative to do. He wants to make sure that the students are happy. That’s his main focus, which is awesome to see.”
Chartwells Assistant Director Mitzi Burton says Connors has been doing an excellent job so far for AAPS.
“Tim has been a wonderful addition to our Chartwells’ team here in Ann Arbor, bringing a lot of knowledge and experience to the table,” she says.
Connors remembers not seeing a whole lot of his father—a certified executive chef—until his dad became a Chartwells chef years ago.
Then he and his siblings saw him a lot. And now his own children say the same thing.
“It’s come full circle,” says Connors. “I think this is a great fit.”