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Food bank meal prep

Volunteers from the Chefs and Cooks of Montana as well as students from the Culinary Arts Program at the Billings Food Bank, from right, Marcy Tatarka, Ramie Schmidt, Tanner Vinecke and Dave Welch cut up turkeys on Tuesday for the annual Thanksgiving meal. The group of 40 volunteers cooked 120 turkeys and made 35 gallons of gravy for the meal that will be held at the Food Bank's new building for the first time.

The gravy simmered in a vat the size of a small hot tub — enough to accompany 120 turkeys.

Thanksgiving is coming to the Billings Food Bank, and the chefs are prepared.

"It's organized," Billings Food Bank executive Chef Cynthia Ware said of the process. "If there's one word for it, it's 'organized.' The kinks were worked out some time ago."

For 27 years, the Billings Food Bank has been preparing its community Thanksgiving meal with volunteers from the Chefs and Cooks of Montana organization. This year they plan on feeding more than 1,000 people.

A group of 40 volunteers worked Monday and Tuesday to prepare the meal. Working alongside the professional chefs were adult students in the food bank's culinary job training program. For many of them it was a chance to rub elbows with potential employers.

"They knew this was a big tryout," Ware said.

John Perkins, who's two weeks into the 12-week program, used the opportunity to glean as many tips and tricks as he could from the professionals.

"I'm just trying to learn all I can from them," he said. "I was jumping in and helping where I could."

And for the most part, the professional chefs were accommodating.

"They were so easy to talk to," Perkins said.

"They would take the time to show you something," said Karen Burch, another student.

Many of the students said they were quickly corrected when they did something wrong and were praised when they did something well.

And there was plenty to show. The crew cooked 120 turkeys, carved all the meat from them, cubed 500 pounds of bread for stuffing, cooked up 60 gallons of stock, made 35 gallons of gravy and chopped innumerable vegetables.

"It was chaotic," Burch said. "It was fun."

Student Lavilla Daniels, who's worked in the Montana Rescue Mission kitchen, said she made the most of all the hands-on work.

"It was a good networking experience," she said. "They (the chefs) were fun to work with."

All of cooks are looking forward to Thursday, when they'll put the meals together and serve them in the food bank's new banquet hall starting at 1 p.m.

"This is a great meal and there is a lot of love," Ware said.

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Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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