Four years ago, when the Calgary chapter of les Marmitons wanted to make a difference at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, they chose the last Sunday in January as their preferred date to come and prepare a day’s worth of gourmet meals. Historically, it is considered to be the coldest day of the year, and this year was no exception. If not the coldest, January 27 was definitely one for the records.
While previous Sunday’s served up chilly weather, Sunday, January 27 delivered up bone-chilling frigid air spurred on by a biting north wind that cut through even the heaviest of clothing. It was a day to sit curled up in front of a fire sipping hot toddies and enjoying a bowl of tummy warming soup.
There was no roaring fire to warm-up clients at the Drop-In hearth, but the building was hot, and the kitchen a hotbed of feverish activity. Long before the crack of dawn, les Marmitons, a group of Calgary men from all walks of life who share a love of food and cooking, swept in amidst a flurry of pristine as snow white hats and aprons, and gleaming chopping knives and spinning whisks. Surrounded by giant mixing bowls and hundreds of pounds of potatoes, vegetables, butter, cream, garlic, salt, pepper and meats, they deftly conjured up a day of feasts fit for a king.
Economist, John Kenneth Galbraith said, “It is not necessary to advertise food to hungry people, fuel to cold people, or houses to the homeless.”
No one had to sell clients at the Drop-In to come and partake of Sunday’s meals. For most, eating at the Drop-In is a given. It is all they can afford. With the arrival of les Marmitons, however, eating became a gastronomic adventure that pleased the palates, warmed the hearts and filled bellies with exotic tastes that awakened imaginations to the possibilities of life beyond a homeless shelter.
“I used to go to fine restaurants. Before my addiction got the better of me,” said one client. “Tasting the food today reminds me of what is possible if I stay clean.”
There wasn’t an empty seat all day on the 2nd floor of the Drop-In, and, as another client said after sitting back from a satisfying lunch of Baked Chicken Breast with Mushroom Sauce, Tomato & Yello Pepper Wedges, Baby Vegetables and Rice Pilaf, “Why leave when there’s more of this to come? I appreciate the meals I get everyday, but this is amazing.”
Feeding 1200 to 1500 people is not for the faint of stomach. For Drop-In chef, Cindy, it is a daily undertaking. With a budget of seventy-five cents a person per meal, Cindy possesses an uncanny ability to juggle and organize, and a remarkable proficiency at some slight of hand that includes stretching a meal prepared for 800 to fill the bellies of two to three hundred more.
As Glenn Comm of les Marmitons pointed out, “We had a budget of $15,000 and 3 tons of food while Cindy has to try every day to feed the thousands with the equivalent of five loaves and two fishes. I am humbled by her dedication.”
On Sunday, Cindy opened up her kitchen to 40 amateur chefs and their families and friends. At times, there didn’t appear to be room to beat an egg, but nonetheless over the sixteen hours members of les Marmitons were on site, she kept the kitchen on track and organized amidst what appeared at times to be chaos. Between ensuring there were enough plates to feed the overflow, scrambling to clear tables, keep coffee flowing and meals cooking, Cindy worked with her team of volunteer chefs to ensure the day passed without any broken eggs thrown on the kitchen floor in frustration.
It was a day to remember and one clients and staff will continue to replay in their minds and on their tastebuds. As the applause at the end of each meal showed, les Marmitons served up a first-class day of culinary delight that pleased the palates of everyone in attendance.
Thank you to all the members of les Marmitons, their families and friends. You make a difference.
Thank you also to Coca-Cola for their donation of an extra 30 cases of pop – quenching the thirst is an integral part of feeding hungry souls.
Sysco Food Services of Calgary, Inc. also stepped up to the plate and upgraded the order for AA beef to AAA. Going a cut above gave clients' spirits a lift and made chewing easier for those for whom dental care is a luxury, not a way of life.
Also on the gratitude list is the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) who kindly made its John Ware Kitchen, one of the clubs two regular venues, available to club members to use for their Saturday preparations. Without their help, along with two instructors who participated in the Sunday event, les Marmitons would not have been able to deliver such superb culinary delights on Sunday.