Thanksgiving dinner is usually a major undertaking, even for the most seasoned chef. So to speak.
Consider, though, a sumptuous meal of turkey and ham, with potatoes, green bean casserole, the works. For more than 700 diners.
It happened Thursday, November 19, at the Olt Student Center at Anderson University, a week before students leave for their own Thanksgivings.
Coordinating the event are Steven May, director and chef of the AU Dining Services, and Maureen Pothuisje, production manager.
The two spoke this week about the annual holiday buffet, explaining that the logistics for such a feast dictate beginning early. A year early.
“Maureen came and knocked on my door about a month ago and brought it up,” May said, almost begrudgingly but with a chuckle.
“Basically, we have planned almost a year in advance what we’re going to do,” Pothuisje said from the AU kitchens.
“Since we do it every year,” May added, “we kind of look when we get done with it and see how it went and keep notes each year. And we adjust it.”
The basics remain — meat and potatoes — but side dishes are eligible for adjustment, even replacement.
Actual, hands-on preparation begins with ordering supplies: 54 quarts of French-cut green beans, 120 pounds of corn, gallon upon gallon of mix-to-makegravy, plus 24 turkey breasts, 10 pounds each, and 12 smoked hams, 10-12 pounds each, along with varying poundage of rolls, cranberries, sweet potatoes and three kinds of pie.
“We use the turkey breasts, and not the precooked,” Pothuisje said. “We buy them frozen. They’ve been sitting in our walk-in cooler for a week now, and they’re still not thawed.”
Then executing the event takes two days of coordination, then a full eight-hour shift to prepare, all the week before Thanksgiving.
The meal is not the only extravagance, as the tables are dressed up in linens and napkins, with centerpieces on each table.
And for those growing hungry right now, no, walk-ins are not admitted.
“We might want to mention that,” May said, laughing. “So we don’t have people showing up.”
For an institution with an admittedly spiritual foundation, such an evening obviously carries a bit more meaning for those involved.
“It’s a pretty big night for us,” May said. “And I think a lot of them appreciate it.”
“I think they appreciate the upscale atmosphere, too,” Pothuisje added.
“It’s something different,” May said. “And we get a lot of thanks afterwards.”
—Rodney Richey is a feature writer for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credits: John P. Cleary. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.