Texas A&M: Thanksgiving In The Brazos Valley

Past the massive commercial ovens, simmering gallons of gravy and racks of sweet potatoes, 100 turkeys rubbed with herbs and spices waited in a cold storage room Wednesday at the back of Texas A&M University’s Duncan Dining Hall.

The kitchen was mostly calm the rest of the day, with a couple of employees focusing on chopping onions and celery, dicing bread for stuffing and other preparation.

The real show began more than 12 hours later at 3 a.m. Thursday, when they would put the turkeys in the oven and begin firing the rest of the food.

On the menu: 1,400 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce, 700 pounds of sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, and 2,000 rolls. Cooked by 30 Chartwells staff members and served, packaged and delivered by more than 300 volunteers, the food will feed about 1,000 local families this year as part of Thanksgiving in the Brazos Valley.

The food for the 2,000 meals prepared this year were donated by the Brazos Valley Food Bank, H-E-B, and Scarmardo’s Foodservice Inc. The meal, now in its 38th year and organized by Epicures Catering, has been prepared at Duncan Dining Hall for the last nine years.

Chef Marc Cruz, executive district chef with Chartwells, said the chefs there are used to feeding 2,000 cadets multiple times per day, and though Thanksgiving is a large undertaking, it’s a seamless process.

“Honestly, it’s a bit slower than we’re used to,” Cruz said of the massive effort. “It’s a big production to people from the outside, but it’s in our wheelhouse and what we do on a daily basis.”

The dining hall’s kitchen – the largest in Brazos County – feeds legions every day. By noon, every meal will be out the door and on its way to a local family.

Chartwells chefs at Texas A&M have handled the cooking for several years, but Thanksgiving in the Brazos Valley is an effort started nearly four decades by Danny Morrison, owner of Epicures Catering.

In 1983, Morrison said he found himself alone on Thanksgiving for the first time without his family in town. Looking to take advantage of this time, he decided to sell and deliver chef-prepared Thanksgiving meals around Bryan-College Station.

“A man opened the door, and when he saw me he started crying,” Morrison said.

The man told Morrison that his wife recently had a stroke, and was bedridden. She had prepared the Thanksgiving meal throughout their marriage, and for the first time was unable to cook for them.

“You’re bringing Thanksgiving to us,” Morrison recalled the man saying. When he asked how much he owed, Morrison told the man that his words were payment enough. He hasn’t charged for a meal since.

“It feels very good that I was able to start something that will live on past me,” he said. “I do see that this has outgrown me, because the community has picked it up. This is a project that’s coming out of their hearts, and it’s a good project for everybody to be involved in. The sponsors are also wonderful people who really support it, and they want it to succeed. We’re all after the same end goal.”

Morrison said the event has become a family tradition for many volunteers, with many bringing their children to help prepare the food or go on deliveries. Cruz said for the Chartwells cooks and managers who volunteer their time, it’s also an event that their family members have come to look forward to every year.

“It’s great for us to give back, and it really hits you inside your heart and makes you understand the meaning of the things we have,” Cruz said.