Restaurants, students cook Thanksgiving meals for the masses

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  • Under the watchful eye of Holiday Inn Executive Chef John Dukette, students scatter vegetables onto the turkeys the group was preparing to augment the Windmill Restaurant Thanksgivng dinners on Tuesday, November 25, 2020 at the Holiday Inn kitchen. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jitters Restaurant owner Paul Rogers serves up some of the 200 Thanksgiving dinners for takeout on Wednesday morning, November 25, 2020. Rogers is a one-man operation after having to let go his entire staff because of COVID virus. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Under the watchful eye of Holiday Inn Executive Chef John Dukette, students scatter vegetables onto the turkeys they are preparing to augment the Windmill Restaurant Thanksgiving dinners on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Jitters Restaurant owner Paul Rogers serves up some of the 200 Thanksgiving dinners for takeout on Wednesday morning, November 25, 2020. Rogers is a one-man operation after having to let go his entire staff because of COVID virus. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jitters Restaurant owner Paul Rogers works the grill for breakfast customers as he is also preparing Thanksgiving dinners for takeout on Wednesday morning, November 25, 2020 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kyli Desjardins ladles butter over the turkey that will become part of the gravy at the Holiday Inn kitchen.

  • Some of the 200 Thanksgiving dinners for takeout at Jitters Restaurant in Pittsfield on Wednesday morning.

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/25/2020 3:20:17 PM

Kyli Desjardins scooped a ladle of a buttery mixture and poured it over a trio of turkeys waiting to go into the oven.

The 20 plump birds, packed into stainless steel pans and dressed with a classic mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions, were the lesson of the day for Desjardins and other culinary arts students working inside the kitchen at the Holiday Inn in Concord this week.

Once the turkeys were out of the oven, the students clad in chef coats turned the drippings into gravy to cover hundreds of pounds of meat and potatoes that will be enjoyed by families around Concord. The meals won’t be consumed by hotel guests. They will be among the hundreds of Thanksgiving meals distributed each year for free by the Windmill Restaurant on Loudon Road.

All this week, homes, non-profits and restaurants have been busy preparing meals for a Thanksgiving that is unlike years past. The coronavirus means fewer people are traveling to see family. Cooking a 20-pound turkey is overkill for many small families, which has increased demand for take-out dinners this year.

“There’s a lot of elderly who don’t have family in the area at this time,” said Paul Rogers, the owner of Jitters Cafe in Pittsfield, who will be open for take-out meals until 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

While feeding the community, the students working under the watchful eye of Holiday Inn Executive Chef John Dukette are learning life and career skills through New Hampshire’s IMPACCT Academy. IMPACCT stands for Inspiring the Mastery of Post-Secondary Achievement in College, Career, and Training.

“The main point of our program is to get kids ready to go into the workplace,” said Vanessa Valdez, a transitional specialist with the academy. “So they’re all high school students. And we’re getting them job ready. So that’s resumes, cover letters, researching what jobs work for them.

Normally, the students would be down the street working at NHTI, but with the campus shut down due to COVID-19, the Holiday Inn offered their facility.

The lessons don’t stop in the kitchen. Students get exposure to a full range of hospitality skills, like working the front desk, performing facility maintenance, doing housekeeping and responding to guest requests, all of which are difficult to do in a remote education setting over a computer.

“I happen to have a banquet room that’s big enough to socially distance all the students and for them to collaboratively have a space to run their program as well,” said Amanda Raymond, director of sales and marketing for the Concord Holiday Inn. “We’re lucky enough to be able to be open for business. So it all just kind of made sense to pull it all together.”

While teams worked in unison at the Holiday Inn, in Pittsfield, Rogers was a one-man cooking machine.

In years past, he’s had employees by his side. This Thanksgiving has presented a new economic reality.

“I’ve had to lay everybody off because of this virus,” he said in between chopping potatoes. “I’m able to stay afloat by myself, but to have payroll at this time, it has been on the rough side.”

He donated some of the food he prepared to the needy through the town welfare department, while also selling items for pickup, including 200 “oversized” meals and 60 pies. He’s also whipping up other items like pastries and offering flowers for sale.

“I am running this solely by myself,” he said.

Rogers has a busy life. He recently moved to Pittsfield after selling his house in Barnstead, he owns a hair salon, he is a foster parent, and has five dogs at home.

Despite 14-15 hour days, Rogers says it’s all worth it.

“I’m very fortunate and very lucky,” he said. “I’m making it work.”




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