New cafeteria supervisor has decade-long experience in food service industry

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Rebekah Kim

Ella Ongkoputro has been named the new food service lead at Sunny Hills, where she will oversee cafeteria operations during the 2021-2022 school year in which all students are eligible for a free breakfast, lunch and take-home dinner meal.

Jiwoo Han

Coming from Indonesia to the United States after completing high school was not an easy transition for Ella Ongkoputro.

“It was a struggle to learn how to do all things by myself, as my parents did not live with me in the United States at the time,” Ongkoputro said. “I spoke English at the time but not fluently, so I even had to take some English classes at Mt. SAC [San Antonio College].

“Eventually, I adjusted well and enjoyed my college experiences.”

That was the late 1990s for Ongkoputro, who was appointed as the new food service lead in the Sunny Hills cafeteria for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Her journey in the foodservice industry began in 2003 after she obtained an associate’s degree in art from Mt. SAC. But she wanted to pursue her passion for cooking and working in a kitchen, which came about from her observations of her mother back in her native Indonesia.

“My mom’s creativity in cooking inspired me to experiment more,” Ongkoputro said. “She would add her own spice mix and ingredients to her liking and most times, it was really tasty. Mom always said to not be afraid to add your own twist in cooking.”

To reach this career goal, Ongkoputro said she got accepted to and enrolled in California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition in 2011.

Her food service work experience then began that same year when she was hired to work at a convalescent home in Pomona as one of the kitchen managers whose responsibilities included cooking, cleaning, managing staff, interacting with patients and ensuring that the food met all state and federally regulated conditions and was served on time. 

“It was challenging work but very fulfilling,” Ongkoputro said. 

After working at that nursing home for seven years, she said she decided it was best for her to move on. And that’s how she ended up working for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

Ongkoputro said she was originally hired to be the cafeteria lead at La Vista/La Sierra High School, where she worked for nearly two years.

Then she said she got an email from her supervisor congratulating her for being selected as the new food service lead at Sunny Hills.

“I was so excited to be selected as the new cafeteria lead,” Ongkoputro said. “I think my prior experiences prepared me well for this position.”

Principal Allen Whitten has no doubt that the new cafeteria supervisor will be a valued contributor to the school culture.

“I appreciate her quick transition to our staff and how hard the cafeteria staff works to make food available to anyone who desires to eat school food,” Whitten said.

For Ongkoputro, she will oversee a cafeteria staff that will have to provide free meals for students to pick before school, at break and at lunch. In the meantime, she hopes to become a positive addition to the cafeteria staff this year.

“Working at Sunny Hills so far has been great and a pleasure,” she said. “My goal this year [is] to serve meals to as many students as we can, [and] we will try to offer more food options that students like that are also in compliance with the school’s nutrition program.”