Joshua McQueen, executive chef of Vandals Dining, and a few members of his staff spent Tuesday peeling about 300 pounds of potatoes, preparing 150 pounds of green beans, 30 turkeys, 14 hams and an array of sides for those unable to make it home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
McQueen and his 10 or so co-workers put in about 100 total hours of work to make the University of Idaho’s third annual Free Thanksgiving celebration at the Bob’s Place kitchen inside the Wallace Residence Center possible.
“When I was in college, I had the luxury of going home,” McQueen said. “This is our opportunity to be an extension of that. We try to create those memories for kids that don’t get to go home.”
McQueen said he’s expecting about 600 people – including many members of the international community – to fill Bob’s Place today for the dinner.
“The cooking is easy,” he said. “We just add a couple of zeroes – it’s easier to cook for 600 people now than my family.”
Initially it was McQueen’s plan to create traditional international dishes for the celebration to pay homage to the diverse cultures that make up the UI and Moscow communities, but in the end it was decided to create a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
“Even though Moscow is small it still has a really diverse population, and I was going that route,” he said. “After they did some thinking they decided let’s go with what Thanksgiving traditionally is.”
McQueen said he doesn’t like turkey much. Being from South Carolina, he said, shrimp, grits and collard greens are what he’s accustomed to stuffing himself with on the November holiday. He said he’s not familiar with the traditional Northwest Thanksgiving, adding he’s going to do his best with the “sweet potato marshmallow thing.”
While McQueen, his handful of chefs and UI faculty will cook the food, the entire dinner is funded by the UI Office of the President.
“It’s a great thing (President Chuck) Staben and the UI do here,” McQueen said. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”
University officials will also be helping in the kitchen.
“President Staben is doing turkey carving – that’s the rumor I heard,” McQueen said.
While preparing, cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner for 600 people would make some want to pull their hair out, it’s an easier day at the office than usual for McQueen, who is normally tasked with feeding anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 students daily.
Since the majority of those students made the trek back to their families for the Holiday, he said, “it’s a pretty laid back day.”
“We have the opportunity to be an extension of a family that they can’t be with,” McQueen said. “It’s a pretty cool thing. It’s a big responsibility and it’s something I love doing – everyone on staff loves doing this.”
The UI Free Thanksgiving dinner will be held 11 a.m.-2 p.m. today.
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