Two Oklahoma City chefs lend talents in effort to aid WestTown day shelter



( ENSPIRE NEWS ) Two Oklahoma City chefs lend talents in effort to aid WestTown day shelterThanks to the leadership of Oklahoma City’s chefs, volunteerism has increased, but the need for more has not diminished, say officials with The Homeless Alliance. Food Editor Dave Cathey looks at some of the latest efforts for Turning the Table on Hunger. Since our last Turning the Table on Hunger coverage, two local chefs have volunteered their considerable talents to the kitchen at the WestTown day shelter, 1724 N Virginia Ave.

Chef Melissa Aust brought a full crew from Stella Modern Italian, 1201 N Walker Ave., including owner Lori Tyler, to serve Turkey and Pepperoni Risotto to about 300 folks seeking shelter at WestTown. Another day, chef Vuong Nguyen of Bonjour showed up in the wee hours of the morning to serve a hot meal to the 200 or so there for breakfast. As the holiday season nears, the need for volunteers will only increase. I can assure you, on behalf of the chefs who have volunteered, the benefits of volunteerism can’t be purchased and won’t be found wrapped in pretty paper under a lighted tree.

While peace on earth takes a collective effort, it’s up to each individual to contribute the good will toward mankind that adds up to world peace in the long run. Self-sacrifice is a common denominator in the equation for spiritual enrichment, regardless of the spiritual journey you’ve chosen.

Kitchen manager Johnny Wofford’s calendar has plenty of vacancies to fill, which might just fill a spiritual void of your own. And Wofford’s kitchen has extra need right now as he just began a well-earned two-week vacation. His right-hand man, Delbert Briggs, is plenty capable, but Wofford’s daily contributions might take the effort of three hard-working people to fill.

Two Oklahoma City chefs lend talents in effort to aid WestTown day shelter2

While your presence is desperately needed at the day shelter, there are plenty of other ways to contribute. Wofford and Briggs would love to serve their guests a proper holiday feast, so frozen turkeys and hams would be greatly appreciated.

Steady supplies of staples including meats, fresh produce, bread, coffee beans and sugar are always welcome. The breakfast service was a reminder that a pancake gun would be greatly appreciated, as would a kitchen scale with capacity up to 5 pounds, bread knives, insulated service carts, parchment paper and cookbooks specializing in institutional service.

The shelter also needs bath towels. Last year, the shelter provided 19,574 showers, so the need for towels — new or used, just clean — is perpetual.

Chefs take their turns

Thanks to the enthusiastic crew from Stella, guests at WestTown were treated to turkey-pepperoni risotto (see Aust’s recipe for Roasted Chicken Risotto with this story) plus a fresh salad with produce donated by Freshpoint and chocolate chip bread pudding. They even got some table service from Tyler, who picked up plates and engaged the diners like a true hospitality professional.

Two Oklahoma City chefs lend talents in effort to aid WestTown day shelter1

Aust, who joined Stella in 2011 and became executive chef last year, ran a tight ship during her turn and was responsible for a lot of smiles from diners. Her energy and organization were only exceeded by her humility.

“Great staff to work with here,” she said. “It’s really important work they do here, and all of us at Stella were honored to be a part of it.”

Meanwhile, when Bonjour chef Nguyen shows up to make breakfast, that’s automatically going to be the best part of the day for anyone who comes across it. He’s been serving breakfast and lunch at Bonjour, 3705 W Memorial Road, Suite 707, for about a year, and the lines out the door for it are becoming common.

The Homeless Alliance‘s Haley Phelps said Vuong’s breakfast was special for one client in particular who has been down on his luck and working hard, with limited success, to get things together so he could get into housing. Phelps said the man came in that morning downtrodden, but when he saw Nguyen’s amazing breakfast, his day turned around thanks to the proof people cared about his well-being.

Imagine how many days could be turned around if the volunteer calendar had a waiting list. The United Way is assisting The Homeless Alliance in organizing its volunteer efforts. To sign up, go online to or

Roasted Chicken Risotto

Two Oklahoma City chefs lend talents in effort to aid WestTown day shelter

1 tablespoon fresh garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup onion, small diced

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 cups Arborio rice

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup white wine (optional)

8 cups of hot chicken stock

1 pound Roma tomatoes, roasted and pureed

2 cups Parmesan cheese

3 cups roasted chicken, diced

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

•Saute the garlic, onion, pepper flakes, rice, salt and pepper in the olive oil over medium heat until the garlic starts to caramelize.

•Reduce heat to low. If using the white wine, add it to the rice and deglaze, otherwise start adding the chicken stock, 2 cups at a time, while constantly stirring the rice. Allow each batch of stock to absorb into the rice before adding more.

•After 6 cups of stock have been added, test the rice for doneness. Rice should be al dente, without any crunch in the center.

•Continue adding the remaining stock if needed.

•When rice is fully cooked, add tomato puree, cheese, chicken and parsley and incorporate until the chicken is hot.

Source: Chef Melissa Aust


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Ese Ofurhie

Editor and Co-Owner/Founder of ENSPIRE Magazine.

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