Students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) received some extra help this year for their annual farm-to-table Thanksgiving feast that they prepare for senior citizens.
Besides local chefs, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh—who are known as the Hearty Boys and appear on the Food Network—James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Gale Gand joined them in preparing a meal on Nov. 26.
Over 400 senior citizens gathered in the gym for a meal sponsored by 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea, and as he prepped food in the kitchen, Smith said working with the students was a re-energizing change of pace.
“This is what I do on a daily basis. I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now, so I’ve forgotten what I know,” Smith said. “It’s fun to come and talk to these kids about all this stuff that I just take for granted, but for them it’s sort of brand new. It puts a whole new perspective on what I do.”
Smith and McDonagh are based in Chicago and host “Party Line with the Hearty Boys” on the Food Network. Smith always works in the kitchen, while McDonagh mans the dining room.
They teamed up with students to make cranberry orange relish and green bean casseroles, and Gand taught students how to make apple crisp and pull-apart herbed biscuits.
The meal also featured classic Thanksgiving fare, including 19 turkeys raised at CHSAS since they were a day old and one lucky turkey that received a pardon. Students also raised ingredients such as potatoes, pumpkins, cornbread, eggs and Brussels sprouts on campus.
Local chefs included Gautham Rao, of Smith Village senior living community; Alvin Green, a private chef who lives in Beverly; Neil Byers, owner of Horse Thief Hollow in Beverly; and A.J. Castillo, owner of Americanos in Morgan Park.
Marc Schulman, who is president of Eli’s Cheesecakes and a member of the CHSAS business advisory council, also worked with students, as did CHSAS food-science teacher Alexandria Pledger and CHSAS Principal Bill Hook.
Smith said he is a longtime friend of Tristan Angus, who is on staff in O’Shea’s office and coordinated the dinner.
He arrived at 9:30 a.m. to prep a meal that was served at about 5 p.m., and students arrived at about 4 a.m. He said he was happy to join them this year.
“It just seemed like a good way to start the holiday season,” Smith said. “Kind of give back.”
Students interacted with guests throughout the dinner, whether it was serving food at the buffet line or visiting tables to serve drinks or strike up a conversation.
O’Shea praised the students’ for their work during the long day, and he requested that the chefs, whom he called “celebrated guests,” take a break from the kitchen to be recognized in the gym.
O’Shea said the dinner had a record turnout, and he wished all the guests a joyous Thanksgiving week.
“The big highlight of the night is just to see all of you,” O’Shea said. “I know many of you will spend Thursday with family. And, we also know that many of you might spend Thursday alone. But, tonight we are all family. You are our family, and we are honored to be with all of you celebrating Thanksgiving tonight—all of us calling this wonderful community home.”