Category Archives: Mercy Chefs

Restaurant Sage–Monroe, LA

The widespread flooding brought us to Monroe, LA.  I’ve passed through this city a million times, but when I came to serve with Mercy Chefs, I came prepared to stay a couple of days.

We typically spend fifteen hours a day preparing restaurant quality meals in a mobile kitchen.  It’s hot and we continually have to watch out for hazards.  It’s only a small price we pay so that we can serve those whose lives have been disrupted by disaster.

After a busy day, four of us chefs decided to enjoy a nice evening at Restaurant Sage. We met Executive Chef Blake the day before as he came down to volunteer at our mobile kitchen.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, we demurred when he said there was no check.  At our insistence he sent out a check, but he discounted our appetizers.) 

Louisiana gulf oysters with garlic butter and parmesan.
 He brought out all sorts of food for us to sample from the grilled oysters and crab cakes, to the sage wraps which were chunks of filet stuffed with cheese and jalapeño and wrapped in bacon. Absolutely unbelievable.   Another high point was the andouille and duck gumbo. Chef Blake told us how intricately it was prepared and all of that effort in preparing it was not in vain. It was incredible. 

Jumbo lump crab cakes with green tomato relish and red remoulade.
 Finally, we fell upon the main course. A couple of us fawned over the short ribs, another had the blackened snapper, and I had the soft shell crab with alligator sauce piquant. Everything was great but I have to say the alligator stew was “on point” as one of my fellow chefs kept saying throughout the meal. Next time I’m in Monroe I may have to enjoy another unforgettable meal.


(Top photo consists of soft shell crab and alligator sauce piquant.)

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Operation:  Monroe, LA

Somewhere on the order of twenty four inches of rain fell on the great state of Louisiana last week and thousands were affected.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many people lost everything in the flooding.  Here we are nine days later and the water has finally receded from the only road to my house. We had to get creative to get to and from home because of this.  I only had some minor flooding in the living room and I think we cut the pad out in time to rescue the carpet.  My problems pale in comparison to those we are serving this week in Monroe, LA.  

Chef John Stout smiling as he stirs red beans and Chef Gary LeBlanc assembling meals.

As a Mercy Chef, I serve alongside many talented chefs to provide restaurant quality food to victims, volunteers, and first responders.  Our numbers have been increasing daily.  As I headed home today, I was advised we prepared 1000 meals at lunchtime.  The hours are long and the work is strenuous–over two and a half days I worked nearly 40 hours. 

Chef Buddy raking a much needed break.
 
As I lay in bed reflecting on the past few days my body, my swollen hands, aching back, and angry feet remind me that I’m going to pay for it.  But I’m in my bed.  I’m not cramped in a Motel 6 relying on the kindness of strangers to meet my basic needs.  I’m in my warm home listening to my sixteen year old daughter practice her piccolo solo.  

My friends are still serving in Monroe as the need is great.  We don’t do anything special.  In comparison to other disaster relief ministries one might think we don’t do much at all.  And they would be right.  We provide a meal.  It’s intransient, yet a hot meal brings comfort in crisis. 

Chef Lisa peacing out while Chef Blake prepares apple Brown Betty. I’m the joker washing dishes.
 I’m reminded of Luke 14:12-14:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” 

M3 along with its companion cooler trailer.
 That’s what Mercy Chefs does.  

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach–2/15/2015

Being a Mercy Chef is a lot of work, but the rewards are seemingly limitless. I am always awestruck to be blessed when I set out to bless others. It’s counter-intuitive. Receiving sounds like it should be better than giving. It’s like saying 2 + 2 = 5.

Now we aren’t total kooks by going all the way to Dallas to feed homeless people. After all, we have homeless people in Shreveport. We do serve at home and are presently exploring ways to get even more involved, but in Dallas, I have access to equipment and a network of incredible chefs where we can go where the homeless live and set up shop essentially in their living room to feed and fellowship. (Plus, I get to drive around a thirty-seven foot mobile kitchen). A fantasy of mine is to have a food truck so I could do this every day, but that’s another story.

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My daughter, Alli, is hard at work while I’m creeping on her.

This is the second month where I was essentially in charge of the day. I did the shopping, drove the kitchen to the site, and oversaw the operation. I really enjoy the responsibility, yet I’m always humbled to be handed the reigns as I’m just a hack. I work with über talented chefs who do this sort of thing for a living. Cooking is my passion, but I’m just an amateur. When I started volunteering with Mercy Chefs, I was dishwasher guy. Even if I was still dishwasher guy I would be thrilled because it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.

Every time I serve I’m reminded of Luke 14:13-14–“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

I don’t think our motivation to serve others should be for blessings, though. We shouldn’t serve for fuzzy feelings or because others will give us a pat on the back. Our direction is clear. Christ commands us. We can’t serve him from our couch. We shouldn’t wait for others to do the work while we sit idly by. We shouldn’t make excuses because of our limitations or because we are too busy. Can we really be too busy to disobey Christ? Can we really be so apathetic that we just turn away when we see our neighbor in need? Are we Christians or are we merely poseurs?

The fields are ripe, Christian, and we have work to do. Whether you are a chef, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or a ditch digger, you have an assignment from our King.

Hypocritical Christian

I just walked in the door about a half hour ago. It has been a long weekend as the family and I piled into the mommy van and drove to Dallas yesterday. Our main reason to go was because of a homeless outreach we participated in today, but as yesterday was my wife’s birthday, we had a nice lunch at Tolbert’s, then picked up a BBQ and cinnamon roll snack at Bartley’s BBQ, and let the kids swim in the hotel pool.

This was actually the first time we came the day before. On a typical trip, we get up at 3 or 4 am on Sunday, drive to Dallas, and cook for some outdoor friends. Maybe it sounds strange, but as Christians, we try to take the “love your neighbor” commandment seriously. Notice I said try. We are the typical hypocritical Christians that screw things up most of the time, but once in awhile, I hope we make adequate representatives of Christ.

I’m not being facetious. Christians are fallible. Oftentimes, Christians look just like hypocritical unbelievers. (Not that all unbelievers are…face it. We are all hypocrites.) Oftentimes, it is easy to pigeonhole a Christian because he is being compared to God.

Besides, the very best things I might accomplish in my life are nothing but filthy rags I present to my King. I am not looking to glorify myself. My humble efforts are only to point to Jesus.

It’s been less than an hour and the Luoma household is back to business as usual. The kids are fighting and I’m trying to convince them that we should be quiet. By yelling. Did I mention that I was a hypocrite?

Mercy Chefs Dallas Homeless Outreach — 1/18/2015

Trekking from Shreveport to Dallas and back to head up a homeless outreach under a bridge is a big undertaking for me. This was my first time driving the kitchen trailer by myself. I wasn’t dragging a three foot popup tent. It’s something around 37 feet of culinary carnage. Really, I anticipated that careening in slow motion off a bridge was in the realm of possibility, but I drove like an AARP racecar driver.

The other concern came from my wife as I have a history of falling asleep at the wheel, and I had my oldest daughter and her best friend in tow. If I was feeding my candy crushing addiction and caused a fourteen car pileup because of my gross negligence, I don’t know how I could live with myself, but I think after community service, I could get back in my wife’s good graces. Catching my beauty rest at 75 mph with live cargo is a line my wife won’t cross. The other option was to go to sleep by 10 pm and guzzle about eight Red Bulls throughout the day. I thought aliens were going to burst out of my chest from this tonic, but it was a reasonable risk.

We served shepherd’s pie and delightful bundt cake to around 200 homeless people under the bridge on Hickory Street. A church comes out regularly to preach the gospel to these people who may never have the opportunity. It’s a gospel of hope, and I hope the simple gift of a hot meal does its small part in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

Seventeen hours later, I’m on my couch reliving the day’s events. It is so amazing being to volunteer with fellow Mercy Chefs. It’s amazing to be trusted to move the kitchen to the site. It is just amazing serving Jesus Christ.

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (‭Luke‬ ‭14‬:‭13-14‬ ESV)

Another Mercy Chefs Adventure

Mercy Chefs adventures have become a regular facet in my life, and until recently, I have not had exposure to the logistics issues that need to be addressed to have a successful deployment. Three weeks ago, I went to Tuscaloosa, AL to assist in the transport of the command center. We were undertaking massive Thanksgiving feedings in Texas, and with our resources spread over several locations, we needed a central position to effectively manage the operation.

Yesterday, I embarked on an adventure with Chef John Stout to Portsmouth, VA. We were tasked with driving Mercy 3 (our third mobile kitchen) back to its home. He was coming from Dallas and picked me up in Shreveport so that we could deliver our cargo.

We had a late start and didn’t get settled into our hotel in Duluth, GA until about 2 am. I finally dozed off about 3:30 am and I was in the shower three hours later. I felt like time had slowed to a crawl as we journeyed today. We were pulling a massive trailer, plus I’m a slow driver, so it took about five minutes shy of eternity to reach our destination. Fortunately, it turned out to be the ideal time for some great fellowship with two integral members of the Mercy Chefs organization, Donna Testa and Gary LeBlanc. Gary is not only the CEO, but he made a killer turducken gumbo for dinner. That’s what chefs like to do. If we aren’t serving, we like to eat.

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Chef Gary made an incredible turducken gumbo.

I hope to sleep five hours tonight as I’m ready for the trip home. I’m glad to experience what it is like beyond the deployment. It’s a lot of…well, logistics. I’ve only scratched the surface and I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow in the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, I’d really like this Lunesta to kick in. It’s 1:19 am and I’ll be back in the truck in no time.

Mercy Chefs is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Please consider partnering with us in feeding body and soul.

Pow Wow Texaco and Deli–Ruston, LA

When I’m headed east on a road trip, I’m usually ready for lunch around Ruston or Monroe. We initially stopped in Ruston to try Ponchatoulas, but there was no way we could park this humongous trailer. It was time for Plan B.

We had just about given up when we saw an interesting Texaco. The sign claimed Cuban sandwiches that were “pure awesomeness.” Call me skeptical, but that’s a pretty bold claim.

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The Cubano Caliento.

It was a typical gas station with a small deli. This one specialized in Cubans and Honduran tamales, but had other delights as well.  I ordered a cup of gumbo and seized upon the Cubano Caliento–a Cuban made with ghost pepper cheese. The sandwich man asked me twice because he didn’t want me to cry. Undaunted, I went forward with my decision.

The gumbo was really nice. It was thinner than I like, but it had incredible taste. There’s something atypical about the flavor. I can’t put my finger on it, but it works.

The Ghost Cuban was amazing! It was a little short on ham, but the pulled pork was perfectly seasoned. The ghost cheese was warm, but not death-defying hot. It was perfect. I finished my sandwich twenty minutes ago, and my esophagus is still simmering.

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Pure awesomeness.

This is a diamond in the rough. The cheesy sign is an accurate representation. Their Cubans are pure awesomeness.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

I spent the evening sitting next to a hipster with a patchy beard who appeared to have skipped a shower or two. That’s the look people try to capture these days and I knew I was at some pretentious art scene event when I spied Mr. Shiny Hair sipping a Heineken.

This competition was in the spirit of “Chopped,” with Ted Allen. We selected our “mystery ingredient” Saturday morning at the farmers’ market.

Now that I pause to think about it, this was a hackneyed attempt at trying to marry the vegetable culture with the art world. I’m not complaining as I’m a self-admitted hack. As a matter of fact, Ben Franklin would call me a hack of all trades.

The “mystery ingredient” I selected was tomatoes. Simple enough. I thought about spaghetti, but there were only two mystery ingredients to choose from. I needed something different to stand out from the other tomato infused dishes.

I suddenly realized what I was going to create yesterday after church. I decided upon carnitas (über braised pork that I nestled In soft corn tortillas). I tossed in some tomatoes, but the star was going to be the salsa. Salsa is pretty typical for tomatoes, so I added cantaloupe and mint. It was more cantaloupe than tomato, but it went great with the pork tacos.

I really didn’t think the competition was going to be a big deal but I was competing with sixty-five other contestants. As I waited on the judges to do their work, I was hit with a wave of flop sweat. I tried to focus on a gaunt senior citizen wearing a CamelBak. I couldn’t help but notice his steampunk glasses that appeared to be a horse blinder but I decided it was either a monocle to give him X-Ray vision or it was a tiny rearview mirror. I only wish he had a steampunk time machine so I could skip the waiting.

I often question my abilities as I’m self taught. Granted, I have learned a lot from my chef buddies on Mercy Chef deployments, but I was curious to see how I fared among a sea of strangers.

The panel of judges consisted of chefs at great restaurants and I was competing with chefs. I could tell I was over my head when I saw the presentation of the dishes. I left out the hoity and the toity. Most everything else looked like it belonged on magazine covers.

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I was shocked when I received an honorable mention. Even my great friend, Chef John, congratulated me and called me Chef. That means a lot coming from a chef of his caliber.

I don’t know if I’ll do another competition as the flop sweat is a killer, but I’m quite satisfied with an honorable mention. Oh, and one of the judges from the west coast said that this was something he would serve at his restaurant.

It’s More of the Same, Only Different.

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Today has been a great blessing! Another day in Louisville, MS with Mercy Chefs, but a couple of volunteers showed up. How I love supervising! It’s still mentally taxing but I didn’t have to stoop or bend over. It’s the small things that I appreciate.

I’ve still been stiff all day and I had no idea how I was going to work all the way through. Ever since I climbed out of bed I’ve been walking like Boris Karloff. These trips are always physically taxing, and it’s only by the grace of God that I am able to do this.

If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, my wife called my rheumatologist and asked them to refill my Humira prescription because of last night’s debacle. I will be on my doorstep Tuesday, nine days sooner than I would have had my next scheduled injection. Heather definitely came through in a clutch on this one.

The first half of the day was rainy and the rest of the day was grey. It may not sound very pleasant as we spend much of our time prepping food under a tent outside, but my arms and neck are crimson. My neck feels scorchy, and I was glad to have had the clouds today. I also don’t want to completely obliterate my pasty good looks. Fortunately, this burn will tan and in about two weeks, all of this bronze will have flecked off.

When we are on deployment, every day is the same in that we get up early and cook, prep, and plan all day. We may have a menu planned only to scrap it two hours before the meal is to be served. The unpredictability of one of our days can be exhilarating. Some people get jazzed about NASCAR. I get jazzed about the excitement in our kitchen.

Finally, I only worked eleven hours today. I say that with all seriousness because this is a short day. I also had several breaks because we had volunteers. If I don’t have volunteers’ backs to break, my back does the breaking.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/just-another-day/
Every day is the same, but every day is unpredictable. I know that may sound paradoxical, but it really is that way.

These trips are never about me or my incessant whining. It’s always about God and how I can serve others in His name. I just hope tomorrow is overcast.

Operation: Louisville

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This year is turning into a busy year for Mercy Chefs. As always, we are torn because we want to serve others, but to serve others there must be a disaster. Ideally, our mobile kitchens would get lonely. The real world always has something else in mind.

This week we are in Louisville, MS. Last week’s tornadoes his this area pretty hard. I’m thankful that the damage isn’t anything like we saw in Moore, OK last year. Our rotation just started work this morning, and our plans are to stay until Sunday. Mother’s Day. It’s also my anniversary.

These deployments are difficult for my family to cope with. Here I am traipsing the world playing chef, while Heather handles everything. Two of my three daughters understand why I keep leaving home, but my four year old princess takes it hard.

I have a tough time remembering that my family is sacrificing a lot for me to serve. I’m not some one man wrecking crew. If I didn’t have a supporting wife who was capable and willing to shoulder all of this added responsibility, my small contribution would be impossible. I am so thankful I have her.

Today’s sunshine turned my neck a nice shade of red and I’m getting rested up for tomorrow. A local volunteer actually hassled me since I’m from Louisiana. It was all in good fun, but I’ve been craving red beans and rice since he brought it up. Unless the menu changes, we are serving Salisbury steak for lunch and pork loin for dinner. I believe we are preparing lunch and dinner for 500 each meal. We usually serve upwards of 800 per meal, so I may have some time to kick back and catch some rays.