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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Press Talk: No kitchen for old men, which I am

By , Columbian Editor

An inside look at making dinner for 900 of my closest friends:

Razor-sharp knives, ladles so large your head could fit in them, pots boiling, oven doors slamming, requests ordered, feet shuffling, hands churning … minds always — always — focused to figure out the puzzle of what goes next.

Welcome to what goes on behind that calm, smiling, pristine, pleasant restaurant dining experience you enjoy on your night out.

I was able to peek behind the curtain a few days ago after being invited to cook for Share’s Soup’s On event last Sunday. I needed a place to make my magic for 900 of my closest friends. And Mark Matthias the owner of newly opened WareHouse ’23 allowed me access.

As I pushed the doors open to the back room filled with beans and bacon and barking, I figured out one thing quickly:

I was in way over my head.

• • •

Share provides shelters for people and families who experience homelessness, and a free hot meals program. The Soup’s On event brought 13 chefs together (well, 12 chefs and me) to cook.

The chefs brought decades of professional cooking experience. I brought my Italian grandma’s soup recipe.

So there I was last Saturday the day before the big event with 50 pounds of fresh tomatoes, 20 heads of garlic, a boatload of basil, 150 eggs, three pounds of Pecorino Romano, two bottles of olive oil and 10 pounds of pasta.

My wife, Maley, agreed to help me but — let’s be honest — I was in deep. Too deep.

If you think about steaming 50 pounds of tomatoes to get the skin off, then coring those tomatoes, then realizing you’ve just begun, you begin to appreciate the daunting task ahead.

And you also realize the mad respect we all should have for those who work in restaurant kitchens.

Look, however crazy difficult it was for me, I knew I’d be done soon enough. These professionals? They do this every day.

Oh my!

• • •

The WareHouse ’23 crew was actually more than helpful (thanks, guys!) but they were also busy serving the customers. Not only that, the executive chef — Tanner Poncik — was doing the Soup’s On event, too. So one of my goals was to just stay out of his way and do my thing.

My first issue was to figure out what “my thing” was. And that boiled down to “everything from scratch.” That ain’t normal for restaurant soups. Way too labor-intensive. But that’s the way my grandma made it. I would follow her course.

So that — and my not knowing anything of worth — resulted in more fun than one human being should be allowed to have.

Five hours after I had begun, I was a beaten amateur. I would come back the next morning — the day of the event — to finish.

• • •

Sunday morning was breaking good. But then, I hadn’t left the house yet, so I knew I was kidding myself.

I had to get back to WareHouse ’23, finish there, then head to the Hilton Vancouver Washington, where a whole bunch of hungry guests would be arriving.

I ended up making 20 gallons of soup. Do the math! That’s about 170 pounds’ worth. And most of it would be served in one-ounce allotments to the 900 tasters. Somehow, some way — with lots of help — I made it.

• • •

The serving completed, I joined the other chefs in the main ballroom. We were all called on stage and received a beautiful commemorative gift. Three chefs — Troy Lucio, the Hilton; Michael Borges, Mill Creek Pub; and Poncik — ended up winning awards for having the best soups.

Of course, in the end, Share was the big winner, grossing more than $125,000. I’ve been down to the Share House. There are still so many people in our community who need help. And it’s our job — our obligation — to help those who do not have what we have.

But this cooking for 900 thing? Not my cup of tea, er, soup. This is no kitchen for old men.

And I’m an old guy.

Columbian Editor