“The clients need nutrition,” said Chef Bob Harre. Nearby, hundreds of bowls worth of steak soup cooked in anticipation of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission’s lunch service. “No health problem can improve with a poor diet.’
Harre, 57, spent years in some of the biggest kitchens in Atlantic City - Resorts Casino Hotel, Caesars Atlantic City, and the Showboat Atlantic City among them.
A few years ago, he started volunteering at the Mission, which provides meals, shelter and programming for many of Atlantic City’s homeless men and women.
John DeMario, the Mission’s Associate Director of Development, said all food donations to the mission are welcome and appreciated. But he admitted that not everything received is healthy.
Harre recognized that, too. And so, he designed 50 weeks worth of healthy soups, one to be served each week throughout 2015.
As of Thursday, 10,000 bowls had been ladled out, with Harre projecting 30,000 servings by years end.
The steak soup that day - the main ingredient was actually braised beef, the chef clarified - included onions, carrots, and Yukon Gold potatoes.
It was complemented by numerous sub rolls topped with olive oil, sauteed spinach, roasted red onions, and blue and mozzarella cheese.
The meals are low in sodium, and exceed the American Heart Association’s standards for heart-healthy eating, Harre said.
To make that possible, donations of high-quality ingredients have come in from many local sources. Fifty pounds of beef for Thursday’s soup were provided by Chartwells Catering. The Formica Bros. Bakery donated the day’s sub rolls. Vegetables were provided by Atlantic City’s Seashore Fruit and Produce Co. and M & S Produce Outlet in Egg Harbor Township.
“This has a chance to have what they really need to make improvements in their health,” Harre said, referring to the meal Mission residents would be enjoying. “Everybody’s doing a little, and it’s a continuous weekly focus on the nutritional well-being of the people we’re serving.”
Harre wasn’t alone in the kitchen. The project includes a number of the other top local chefs he’s worked with over the years.
Wolfgang Geckeler, 69, served as the executive chef at Showboat and Balley’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, as well as spending years cooking for the United States Marines in Japan. On Thursday, he tended to the day’s soup, tasting it every few minutes and skimming fat off the top.
Robert Brennan, 54, worked at Showboat as well, and spent years honing his craft in New Orleans. He made a shrimp and andouille gumbo several weeks ago that Harre said was his favorite dish of the year so far.
“I just want to give back,” Brennan said, surveying the Mission’s kitchen. “It’s a pleasure to be part of such a fine network.”
Luigi Baretto, born in 1935, has studied and cooked in Europe, the Caribbean, and Louisiana. In 1979, he helped open the Italian restaurant Capriccio in Resorts.
Pastor Richard Younger, in his early 60s, served as the Executive Chef de Cuisine at Balley’s for more than a dozen years.
“I do this simply because we’ve got to meet people where they are,” Younger said, adding that he believes taking care of someone’s needs is a way to reconnect them with religious faith.
In another part of the kitchen, Mission resident Bruce Ipock, 49, was washing dishes, part of the organization’s Work Readiness Program.
“It’s great,” he said of the soups Harre’s team has been preparing. He mentioned a recent vegetable soup he particularly enjoyed, before smiling and saying, “All their soups are good.”
“It’s wonderful to do this,” Brennan said, as the lunch hour approached. “I hope it goes on forever.”
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