Seattle Chef Joe has a passion for cooking for intimate gatherings, extravagant get-togethers and everything in between. Lucky for us, that in between also includes a stop at the Ronald McDonald House to serve dinner as part of our Family Meal Program. “I task myself with looking for places to volunteer my services,” says Joe. “When I took the tour of the House, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I found out that nearly 50% of the kids here have cancer, I mean, I couldn’t just walk away and not do this. I just said we’re doing this and it was settled!”
Upon deciding to make a meal at the House, Seattle Chef Joe and his team brainstormed what recipes to bring along. “At first I thought, let’s make this into like a crazy carnival, with really extravagant dishes and maybe even some entertainers,” he says. However, Eleanor, our amazing Activities Coordinator at the House, convinced the group to scale it back for their first-ever meal. Eleanor works with groups to make sure they have what they need and are completely trained and prepared to make a meal at the House. She offers everything from recipe recommendations to advice about how to divide and conquer tasks as a group to make meals easy. “Her input was really invaluable, because on the day we were doing dinner, some of our group got sick and couldn’t come to the House. So, we had only four people on the team to make a meal to feed 110 people! We pulled it off because we’d planned a simple menu and we were able to make it even easier by turning our meatloaf recipe into a meatloaf crumble.” The group also had an enormous amount of help on the day of from the kitchen supervisor, Sheryl. Sheryl and other kitchen supervisors are at every meal, to help groups get organized and make sure everyone follows the health and safety guidelines.
What Joe finds most remarkable about the House is the one on one connection he was able to experience with families. “The restaurant industry is all about providing not only excellent food, but really excellent service. It’s about that one on one connection between you and the people you’re serving. It’s that spirit of service that drives me to give back to many local nonprofits, including the Ronald McDonald House,” says Joe. “And at the end of the day, the families at the Ronald McDonald House were so appreciative of the food that we made. Even something that to me seems incredibly simple like meatloaf crumble, just made their day.”
When asked what advice he would give other groups who want to volunteer, Seattle Chef Joe says that it is important to cook from the heart. Simple meals and meals that don’t require long cooking times are always a good plan. He also suggests using cooking shortcuts to make putting together a giant meal easier for your group, like using easy to prepare frozen green beans. “Honest home-style comfort meals are popular,” he adds. “A lot of the kids here are going through intense illnesses and just want something that looks familiar and comforting. Being on chemotherapy can really alter or even eliminate your sense of taste, so the look of whatever you plan to serve is important as well.” Since Joe does a lot of cooking for clients with special dietary issues, he also adds that groups shouldn’t shy away from the healing spices offered in nature. “Spices like garlic and ginger are antiseptic,” says Joe. “Just experiment with foods and flavors that you know are going to make people happy.”
If you’re interested in getting involved with the Family Dinner Program, please visit our page on volunteering! We are seeking groups to cook brunch and dinners, as well as host pizza nights.