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Being a chef sometimes allows you to have a look at the behind-the-scenes of major events.  Things that happen in the news can suddenly arrive right at my kitchen doorstep in the form of some person or persons affected by events, local or global, in need of sustenance. This past week I had a confluence of such events.  The first came in the form of an annual event at the college called Dance Marathon which is a fundraiser for a local children’s hospital.  The event takes place over two days and we provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for approximately 1000 participants who are locked in a huge gymnasium to dance for a good cause for 24 hours.  This year, when all was said and done the organization raised $95,000 for the hospital which treats kids with cancer.  These are college kids doing this which always amazes me and gives me a modicum of hope for the future.

The next event came as a result of a totally bizarre and tragic turn of events.  A local high school basketball team had just finished completing an undefeated season due to a last second shot by their star player.  As they are celebrating on the court the star player drops dead of a rare heart condition. Next thing you know the national media descends on this small town team and the circus begins.  The team decides to carry on into post season tournament play, but their small gymnasium won’t accommodate the huge following the team has suddenly acquired.  The college I work for lends the use of its 5000 seat field house free of charge for as long as the team’s tournament run lasts.  Suddenly I’m getting requests for food like you wouldn’t believe. I personally made about 150 pizzas in two days. Over the weekend of the tournament our concession sales top out at 10k per game and my catering sales get an unexpected boost of 15k.  Mind you, this is after we’ve contributed one full day’s proceeds (around 20k) to a scholarship fund set up for the deceased teen’s siblings. The championship game plays to a SRO crowd and the arena is stuffed with national media.  It’s the biggest crowd for a game in the school’s history.  The mood in the field house is unbelievable.  The only thing I can compare it to is when I was in high school in Indiana during basketball tourney time. An incredible mix of noise, heat and emotion.

www.mlive.com/sports/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/03/fennville_basketball_star_wes.html



Then, on my one day off in a 14 day stretch, I go down to the local Rescue Mission to teach a cooking class that myself and other local chefs do on a monthly basis.  I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and its always rewarding and fun.  On this day I only had a couple students and a lot of hangers-on looking to scam a free meal.  No worries, we made plenty.  The lesson for that day was slow poached salmon with lemon gastrique and risotto Milanese.  It’s a little depressing seeing the same faces show up off and on over the years.  One guy, his name’s Latrey, has been wrestling with crack for about five years now.  It’s a miracle he’s still alive and all props to him for his determination to kick.




The day I go back to work is the day the earthquake hits Japan. Later in the week we’re expecting about 15 visiting Japanese students and professors from Tokyo University’s chemical engineering school adjunct called Technos University. I carry on with my own plans for a welcome meal for them when in actuality their visit could be canceled at any time.  Eventually we got word that the delegation had decided to come to America anyway as a way of showing that they were okay and would carry on in the wake of this tragedy.  In times past, I’ve made various sorts of traditional Japanese fare for our visitors from Japan, and have tried to keep things low-key and casual.  This time around though, all of us involved in the planning decided that for the first meal here in the states given the gravity of the situation we should do something special.  Actually this wasn’t my decision, but rather the college's president and wife asked me to kick out the culinary jams for these folks a little bit.  Provide an evening meal to perhaps take their minds away from thoughts of home.  If only for a short amount of time.  So that’s what happened.  I made Parmesan chicken paillard crepinette, which is a flattened, marinated chicken breast folded over a mixture of dark meat chicken, herbs, yellow pepper and parmesan cheese called a mousseline.  I put this on a bed of truffle braised spinach.  On the side were baby green beans with sauteed shitake mushrooms and Wehani rice with Michigan dried cherries.  For dessert we had mango gelato mixed with pickled South African peppadew peppers, fresh papaya and pomegranate vinegar reduction.  I presented this in a whimsical Dr. Suess-like presentation.  Good comments all around and I was told the diversion was much appreciated. 




It always fascinates and pleases me how my job can involve contributing some microscopic piece of pleasure to an otherwise massively miserable debacle and in a tiny way become an agent for good in people’s lives.