Saturday, October 20, 2007

Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen, GUMBO!

Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen GUMBO

Well another third Saturday and I would be in my usual spot volunteering at
the Catholic Outreach
Soup Kitchen
to create a meal for a few of God's lost souls.  I am
going on my third year doing the soup kitchen cooking.  It is a lot of fun,
like a giant mystery basket contest where you never know what has been donated
and you sure don't have a clue how much help you will have to help. Got a call
from the director Angela on Thursday, Bob all the Red Lobster donations are
building up in the freezer. Would you use it up if I get it all out of the
freezer?  Of course I will that is why I volunteer, to use the weird,
strange and "don't want to try with that" stuff that is just beyond some
people's training.  I would walk into the kitchen.

And I would find myself at my favorite part of the day, nothing but sparkling
clean possibilities at this point.  I am usually the only one in except for
Steve this time of the day.  7:30 AM quiet, nothings gone wrong yet, the
plan is perfect.... then we start cooking and you have to adapt and solve
problems.  Many people have asked "what makes a Chef?"  You will hear
lots of answers, but for me it is simple, can you run the ship when its taking
on water, listing at 30 degrees, has limited power and half a crew?  If you
can step up and stand at the helm, handle the crews, and meet the challenge all
while giving direction and seeing the standard for service is met.  You
are, if you can not handle the logistics of what gets used when, if you one
thing is the only thing you can think of or handle thinking of, you are a cook,
maybe a damn good cook, but still a cook.  The five Chefs I work with could
all pull off an entire meal with everyone around them going home.  And so
think of Chef as the Captain of the ship, can you take the crap, the headaches
and most importantly "will people follow you to the goal you are pointing at?" 
If yes, you can do the Chef thing, if no, you will be one of the cooks. 
Nothing wrong with cooks, many many are great, but orchestrating everything is a
different skill than creating a single dish.

As my volunteer crew begins to show up I have decided, due to the mix of
seafood that we will move this ship toward providing 223 souls a fine Creole
meal.  I say Creole and not Cajun, because we are not going to use native
species of Louisiana here, we are going to use whatever, which is what the
Creoles prior to the French refugees showing up in Louisiana.  I put my
first volunteer to work dicing onions.  Of which I only need about 12 cups
or so.

I can handle the 10 cups of celery and the 6 cups of peppers in 20 minutes
tops.  As more volunteers show up they are put to the onions as well. 
Some will also do the carrots.  Don't find carrots in a lot of Gumbo, but
when you are at the soup kitchen and 15 pounds are donated, you learn Creole
Gumbo has carrots.

As more and more trickle in I have the tasks for the entire meal in my head. 
And each is assigned specific tasks I need completed to make service on time at
12 Noon.  And I have never been late on service, and I am not going to
every be late on service.  This whole meal in the head is another Chef
trait.  If you have to "do it yourself" and can not divide the work up
logically, you are not going to make the meal in time.  You have people
with hours, use them to get hours of labor.


Tom's a school teacher, been with me three years, he knows the salad drill,
two fruit salads with as much fresh as we can get, then fill in with canned
fruit.  Two Green Salads with as much fresh vegetables as we have donated,
then fill in with something if we are short on the weight.  He knows the
salads so well, as the volunteers come in I just send half to him and he uses
them where he needs them to meet the salad deadline.

He has them all lined out with two greens and two fruits and gets them done
quickly so we can have the salads in the reefer and the labor back online for
the main course.  Today I also need a dessert for the clients, as we had
almost no cakes and such brought in from the bakeries.  (Someday they sell
it all, others days we get a ton of stuff.)  So Dominic will handle getting
the local apples ready.  I was asked to use the cases of waffle cones
donated before they go bad.  I think a nice apple compote in a waffle cone
with whipped cream should finish a gumbo well.

Onions and veggies are getting close to finished, so I am going to start the
roux.  While the ladies finish chopping the vegetables.

Going to need 2 gallons of oil and 12 pounds of flour.  This will be a
very interesting roux to put together.  I just love this giant tilt skillet
we have here at the soup kitchen.

I am going to take the roux to golden brown, not the normal dark brown you
would do for gumbo.  I know that a lot of the clients don't have the taste
for dark roux.  And I want them to eat well as this is usually there only
meal for the day.  I consider it part of my responsibility to understand
how to create food that the majority will eat when I am the Chef at the soup
kitchen.  I would love to go Dark Dark roux and test the boundaries, but
that could mean several don't eat it.  And so it is a golden roux for the

Now my vegetables are all ready for the pot, so I switch the crew tasks
around.  I pull the seafood that has been donated from Red Lobster for the
past six months and frozen.  I show the crew how I want it prepared and
turn them loose.  The newer ones always want to do the crab.  The
experienced know crap picking sucks so they start cutting fish. And tailing
shrimp.  This gumbo gets a great flavor cause I am using all manner of
stuff, fried scallops, fried fish, grills shrimp, grilled scallops, etc etc. 
I have swordfish today, salmon, tilapia, walleye, etc.  It is amazing how
all the different seasonings come to blend in this 30 gallon vat to create a
very deep, very complex gumbo.

I start by adding the vegetables to the roux while the crew is chopping

I will let them sauté a while sharing there depth with the roux, then I will
season again and bring the liquid levels up to the gumbo stage.  This thing
smells wonderful!

Now I am up to the 28 gallon level.  The roux is fantastic and the
vegetables are just really pretty to look at with all the reds, greens, yellows,
and orange colors flashing around while you stir it.

I make the call for the seafood that is ready.

And boy does the seafood start to fill up the tilt skillet.  Salmon and
swordfish, lobster and crab, scallops and white fish all coming together in this
skillet so that 223 unfortunate souls may find a little peace in the life, even
if only for one hour.

And finally it is all done, all the bags are empty.  All the shells are
cleaned, everything is coming together for the feed.  I had put in three
400 series hotel pans of long grain rice at 9:30 AM so we can serve the gumbo on
rice.  This is what the final product looks like.  I had to pull 15
gallons out because of the amount of seafood we had.  No problem, I called
Monday's cook, yep happy to have it, will heat it up as a soup for Mondays meal. 
Great, I like it when nothing goes to waste.

And so I present the October Creole (except I did put gumbo file in the thing
so I stole just a little Cajun for it.) Mixed Seafood Gumbo.  My 223
clients at 27 gallons of it between 12 Noon and 1 PM.  They loved it, I
mean really really loved it.  You can tell when they do cause they all want
to yell to the Chef from through the dish pit.  Cause they can see me
cleaning the tilt skillet while they are eating.  These people that use
this place, they do realize when someone puts the effort and cooks with passion. 
Gary, one of the clients, always comes to me and talks about how they can tell
out in the front that someone that cares about food is cooking.  Be it home
cook just volunteering, or Chef, they know when someone has the passion to put
out the best that can be done with the ingredients available.

I have heard from many of you that love cooking.  Many of you want to
know how to get to a commercial setting to try your hand at cooking.  Hey,
look up your local soup kitchen, they have the equipment and they could sure use
some people who love to cook.  Don't go for accolades, there are not many
if any, but if you just want the satisfaction of knowing you handled it, you hit
the goal, you spanked that meal, go down and volunteer they would love for you
to do so!

'til we speak again, when you're out shopping this week, pick up extra stuff
for you local soup kitchen, you will be helping without even having to be there! 
And a whole lot of god children will be thankful for your effort.

Chef Bob Ballantyne

The Cowboy and The Rose Catering

Grand Junction, Colorado, USA 

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