Oil spill spells full plate for chef

Caren McIntyre spent two weeks preparing meals for crews cleaning up the BP oil spill.

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WALLA WALLA -- Beginning before the sun rises is nothing new for Bon Appetit chef Caren McIntyre, but serving up to 700 men and women working at a command center in Alabama to clean up an oil spill was a new endeavor.

Three command centers for the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill that began in April are set up near the Gulf of Mexico.

One thing each center needs is a food service, complete with tents for kitchens and prep areas -- and chefs. That's where McIntyre came in.

Bon Appetit General Manager Roger Edens found out about this opportunity through Eurest Services, the company providing BP with food service. Bon Appetit and Eurest are owned by Compass Group so when Eurest announced its search for chefs, Bon Appetit heard about it.

"This was a great opportunity for Caren and another cook to have steady work for a few more weeks in the summer as Bon Appetit Management Company does not have very many opportunities for work during the summer months," Edens said.

Though she was near the coast in Mobile, Ala., most of McIntyre's time was spent in the tents preparing food. Two 12-hour shifts made up each day, with five chefs on at a time. One shift began in the afternoon, serving dinner and a midnight meal for those working the night shift. McIntyre's shift began a few hours after the midnight meal at 3:30 a.m. and ended after serving breakfast and lunch around 3:30 p.m. At lunch there was upward of 700 people served, while breakfast served 400, and dinner and the midnight meal were close to 600,.

With no chef in charge of the whole operation, there was strong group effort. Chefs took turns preparing themed meals such as prime rib day and Cajun day. Two large tents made up the kitchens. In one, chefs spent their time in a complete working kitchen, and the other tent held the chow line.

"Everybody was in a really great mood about the fact that everybody was coming from everywhere," McIntyre said. "Everybody was really friendly and really glad to be there to do what they could."

Part of McIntyre's two weeks was spent training local people who will be hired to continue the work in the kitchens for the command center.

"I was very excited to go and be able to help with what I did," McIntyre said.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at jenniferjorgenson@wwub.com.

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