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Catholic Outreach Homeless Thanksgiving Dinner

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
As many readers know I do the third Saturday of every month at The Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen in Grand Junction, Colorado. I write about it fairly often due to the number of you whom have wrote me with stories of getting involved and a few of you wrote about getting a new soup kitchen off the ground. I applaud these efforts, from just making the commitment of supporting with donations monthly, to starting a whole new program, as only individual people acting together can solve societies problems. And this is a problem were one person can have a great impact. Donations regularly help a lot, Pro-chefs volunteering can help utilize ingredients most home cooks stay away from or have no idea how to use. And many of you home cooks that wrote wanting to work in a commercial environment found out it is a fun place to volunteer and test out your skills. Culinary students have an amazing impact on soup kitchens, proper prep and rapid prep are a godsend to the volunteers. And some of the older folks whom wrote about being the dishwasher has been heart warming. No kitchen, not even the most famous kitchens of the world can operate without proper dish and pan washing. NONE!

Doing the third Saturday of the month means I get to cook the holiday meals for the soup kitchen. Today we will feed 223 souls that may not be among the earths most celebrated citizens, but to me they are the most important client of the day! So we get started a few people show up early to help with prep. Around the holidays I have plenty of volunteer, help so while it is a lot of work to put on the full on Thanksgiving dinner feast, I usually have plenty of labor to utilize for the event. One of the things I had to adjust to three years ago was my thinking on food prep. In the beginning I did a lot of it myself cause the volunteers just would not do it correctly. I was able to adjust my chef technique for managing people to include all volunteers. I demonstrate and turn them loose. Check on them in a few minutes, correct if necessary and then forget about it 'til it is completed. Not always perfect, but always 100 percent effort to doing it correctly. And so I adjusted my thinking from high end catering "it has to be perfect" to they have to try their hardest and I will accept it.

And so the day starts with one Volunteer catering chef at the helm. Ready to guide whomever shows up to help toward the goal of a full on Thanksgiving Dinner for the clients of the soup kitchen.

The holidays are wonderful, everyone wants to donate, everyone wants to know they helped someone less fortunate. And so the food rolls in through the door, Turkeys, vegetables, all manner of foods.

I have one of the volunteers start to bring turkeys at me for prep. Others are already chopping onions, celery and cubing bread. I like the challenge of working with the weird stuff, but it is nice to be able to just rock on through a normal simple turkey dinner! I can go into autopilot and just grease through the day without a whole lot of planning.

Angela, the kitchen manager, has left a note that she will be out next week. Could I also put together a meal for next Wednesday for that crew. I guess I will think of something in a while for that problem. Equipment available to me is to conventional ovens and one convection oven. So the turkeys will be done first cause they can handle the time in holding while the vegetables will need to come from the oven to service. First order of business is to get the Turkey out, washed, prepped and into the roasting ovens. I am going to use 8 seventeen pound turkeys. Four in the convection and four in the conventional.

While the birds are benefiting from the magic of Maillard, the crew and I get onto the various vegetable prepping. I have a couple farmers that dropped off some garden grown carrots, 40 pounds of home grown russets, and about 20 pounds yams that came in from another garden. Now the kitchen has to serve at 12 noon. That is the rule for service and we need to meet that goal. I have a large tilt skillet so we are going to steam everything first, then roast to the finish. Basically I steam the vegetables with salt and pepper on the finish. Then we will transfer to 400 series hotels and toss on the sauce, roll them around to coat them and roast them off in the convection as my turkeys should all come out about 10:45 or so. Giving me plenty of time to finish all the vegetables and pull service. In the mean time the tilt is going to get real workout today as I will have to do the giblet gravy, the stuffing, and boil off the mashed taters in it. And so it starts to become clear that this will work out once again for the 12 noon service.

I steamed off the carrots first, then onto the yams, all have been peeled by the volunteers. Meanwhile on the six eye I have one of the volunteers melting down a couple of five pound tubs of margarine. We don't get a lot of butter, but we do get margarine donated. So the margarine and a little Kayro syrup and onions for the carrots with salt and pepper, and margarine and a lot of "fake" maple pancake syrup for the yams. Hey, you make do in a soup kitchen with what ever people dropped off and you make it the best you can for them with what you got. Anyone can cook with the best ingredients, the magic is in taking what you got and making it the best for the clients!
While I turn the volunteers loose on the vegetable finish and panning for roasting, I turn my mind toward those giblets. A few of the volunteers chopped me up 30 pounds of onions and 15 pounds of celery, so with the mise en place completed I can rock on through it on the line. A few more volunteers show up and we have a great abundance of pumpkin in the can, so I think our clients deserve some fresh baked pumpkin pies. So I put a group of three on pumpkin pie duty. Telling them what to throw in the Hobart mixing bowl. 10 cans of pumpkin, 10 cans of evaporated milk, 8 cups of sugar, 1/4 vanilla (my own brought with to help out) 18 eggs, 2 tbsp salt. Should do it for the pumpkin.

A few minutes after I rig the bowl back into the mixer the filling is ready to pull and fill pie shells. This is the only thing I requested from the kitchen manager. I told her I don't like to spend the kitchens money, but if she could see it through to purchase the Marie Calendar's pie shells in the frozen section I would surely appreciate it. As I consider it the best pie shell on the market at this time.

They made ten like this and baking them made the whole dinning room smell like Thanksgiving! Mean time I was on the giblet gravy like a rabid dog, time is starting to crunch down on us. I had room for the pies above the turkeys in the convection, but I really need to see vegetables in my ovens so service comes off on time with the proper products. Gravy is coming along nicely. While I let the gravy finish out on simmer, I start pulling turkeys.

Allowing the giblet gravy to deepen a little on the simmer gives me time to set up my volunteers for turkey carcass madness. Carving and panning 8 turkeys. While they carve and pan I am finishing gravy and starting the stuffing in the tilt skillet after I pan the gravy. Now I have two large young men helping me with this stuff so it is moving fast as they are like little high horsepower forklifts! Time is closing in on us, but we will make service no matter what! I have not been late on service in 36 feeds over three years, and today is not going to start that happening.

The gentleman in the blue apron is actually my business banker. Tom Benton has been my business banker through four different companies. Heck of a nice man and always involved with events to help out those less fortunate. He had no idea I volunteered at the soup kitchen 'til he showed up with his 4-H club to help out today! A word about the bare hands, I bring all the meat back up through sterile temp and hold prior to service, so I glove my volunteers only on ready to eat foods, nothing that is coming back up through sterile temp.
With the turkeys out of the ovens I am free to start to close in on service. The convection is now up to 400 F cause I need heat and speed to pull this off. First five pies are out, second set in, you can see them in the picture at the very top on the rack against the roof of the oven.

This is an oven doing its job as it was meant to, packed and producing enough to feed 223 less fortunate souls. I have got to haul butt on getting the stuffing going as well as the mash taters. They are all prepped. If you remember in the picture were the man was pulling the turkeys, you might have noticed the mushrooms sitting there in the incoming donation shelf. We will have mushroom stuffing!

The tilt skillet is coming into its own today. Man this thing allows you to bang out some serious quantities of food. Add in the bread crumbs and into the pans to roast in the conventional ovens since the turkeys freed them up as well.

One of the cool things to observe is how these young volunteers start to step up. As you build their confidence that they can do this, that they can handle this piece of commercial equipment, they start telling you "I can handle it for you chef" and you know they can! Every time I get a new group I love to watch the ones that respond. They come in wondering, they leave knowing! And today I have quite a group, kids, adults, and teens!

Now we set up for service. The line is ready and the clients are in the house! And the house is performing for what she was meant to do! Serve the less fortunate and serve them well. A short blessing by one of the clients for the group and service starts at 12 noon! Never missed yet, never going to miss.

People start to filter into the dinning room and eat the meal prepared for them. Gary is one of the homeless that recognizes me from helping out around the kitchen. He comes up to say the clients can tell when someone cares that is making the food. And this group of volunteers cares! No crabbing out any of the peeling jobs, cleaning jobs, just yes no problem and it was done!

I have a group of young volunteers helping today. I like to see everyone included and find them a great job. Which they can do, feel that they accomplished something, and tell everyone they did the job.

Once service is almost through I can start to rotate staff through to feed them. Meanwhile I am solving next Wednesday's feeding problem.

While service was happening I am only there to restock the line. I have turned my attention to Wednesday's meal. Eight turkey carcasses, what is a chef to do? Turkey soup of course! And so I start to render carcasses and as usual I call on my friend the tilt skillet to service this idea!

As these carcasses are rendered I offer the rest of my mise en place of onions, celery and carrots to the stock boil. Plus the turkey soup will give me a place to put all the leftovers, if there are any. I pull the carcasses and put together team CARCASS for the picking of the bodies!

Meanwhile I hit the tilt skillet temperature to max, she roars to life as the entire 125,000 btus she can put out roar to life under the recently strained stock. I am going for a 2/3 reduction in under 35 minutes. I am super concentrating for a reason. I can not be around to cool the soup. And so I will instant cool it using over concentration to my advantage. While the strained stock is evaporating I set up my stock pots with the magic that will bring the soup to proper concentration ratios while ensuring the product is at a safe temperature in the required time period.

Ice in the stock pots will bring my soup down in temperature, my soup up to the correct flavor ratio and allow me to have Wednesday's meal in the walk in on time for the 2 PM close of the kitchen. In the end it worked out as I planned. I freakin' love this business!

All they do on Wednesday is add in a couple gallon cans of tomatoes, the egg noodles and boil. Piece of cake!

'til we talk again, remember those whom face circumstances of survival, most have a disability that will not allow them to function properly. No one should go hungry!

Chef Bob Ballantyne
The Cowboy and The Rose Catering
Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
post #2 of 2

Giving Thanks

THANK YOU for this post, and for what you do! I do my volunteer work feedin people in a slightly different arena, but the point is to do it. I really appreciated reading what you do & how. I hope it inspires at least 1 person
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