The Little Nell treats students to lunch for a couple of weeks |

The Little Nell treats students to lunch for a couple of weeks

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Chef Matt Zubrod, culinary director of The Little Nell.
Courtesy The Little Nell

The Little Nell is taking a load off an overworked Aspen School Food Service by delivering hot, fresh meals to students in all three schools of the Aspen School District. For the next two school weeks, culinary director Matt Zubrod and his team will provide a variety of culinary meals to students.

“This is helping out the Aspen School Food Service department by alleviating some of the pressures of my team for the next two weeks,” said Tenille Folk, the district’s food service director. “As we juggle staffing shortages just like everyone else and higher demand for lunch participation increasing at the schools, this is supporting the staff who are being stretched to the max these days.”

The Little Nell is also supporting the department financially by covering the main meal food costs for the next two weeks.

“This is very helpful at this time as food cost is at an all-time high and we have set lunch meal prices in all schools that we cannot just raise the lunch price as we like — unlike restaurants that can raise menu prices with food increase costs,” she said.

The district isn’t part of the National School Lunch Program and doesn’t receive government funding for its lunches, which Folk described as “homemade cooking using real food.” And speaking of that, Zubrod is exposing some kids to new ideas.

“This is a great partnership with Matt and the Little Nell for our students who are not able to have the opportunities to be exposed to new foods,” Folk said. “This also gives my team and I the opportunity to see what other menu items we could potentially add to the monthly menus. … This will be a learning experience for all.”

Sure, Zubrod heard that a couple of kids said they don’t like fish (even if it is salmon maple glaze with baked yams and green beans) Monday, but most were “fired up about the salmon,” he said. And, he’s closing out this week and next with pizza and chicken wings (focaccia this week and deep dish next, to be exact) in a move sure to please everyone.

“The only complaint I got today was from the high school boys who said, ‘It was so delicious but skimpy portions,'” Folk said with a smile. “It is quite astounding the massive amount of food we prepare each day in all three schools.”

While The Little Nell previously has opened its doors to help students and interest them in healthy eating and cooking — such as three years ago (remember, we’ve had a pandemic, so it’s been a while) when Zubrod opened his kitchen to students for a day of a friendly Iron Chef type competition — this is the first time The Little Nell is preparing hot lunches for 600 students. It’s also providing 10 gallons of soup a day for all of the teachers.

“With the school district struggling with staffing, I felt this was an opportunity to give back to the kids and the community with fresh meals,” Zubrod said. “I love making stuff like this. I see what kids eat, and when you’re short staffed (in schools), it’s hard to put a nutritious meal together. I saw the opportunity and knew we could do it. We always talk about what we can do to get kids into eating and eating healthy.”

In addition to wanting to support the school community, The Little Nell has J1 Visa students to support. As part of the Visa program, the business is required to provide 30 hours of work a week, even when its restaurants are closed (they reopen to the public at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 22).

While The Little Nell is Aspen’s only five-star, five-diamond ski-in/ski-out hotel, Zubrod wants it to be welcoming and comfortable to locals, something he hopes to make headway with through the school lunches.

“I want them to feel like The Little Nell is not an intimidating place,” he said. “We’re still keeping it real with the locals.”

Lunch lineup

This week
Today – Chicken tinga with rice and beans
Wednesday – Paella with chicken or shrimp zucchini and tomato
Thursday – Orange chicken stir fry medley with fried rice
Friday – Focaccia pizza and chicken wings

Nov. 13-18
Monday – Baked cod fish sticks with tartar sauce and rice pilaf
Tuesday – Chicken tamales with rice and beans
Wednesday – Meatloaf with mac ‘n’ cheese and corn succotash
Thursday – Chicken coq au vin with buttered noodles haricot verte
Friday – Deep dish pizza and chicken wings