My National Day: A Family Meal
I spend my days as the head chef at TPC Potomac. But this story is about the most important meal I cook each year. It’s not a meal I cook at the club, but one I cook for a very special type of club.
About four years ago, my son Andrew was struggling with what he wanted to do and I suggested that he join the service. The way it came about was we started at the Air Force, then we went to the Marines, we went over to the Army, and then the Navy. One thing led to another and the Navy said, ‘we’ll take him!’
We had a family friend who was a former Navy SEAL and Andrew started to go down that path of special warfare. During his application process, his eye test got screwed up. The Navy gave Andrew the choice that he could either wait to get in, or get in doing this one specific job. My wife and I are at the swearing in ceremony in Annapolis and Andrew comes up to us all mad.
“I got the one job I didn’t want,” he said. “A cook.”
I told him that I’ve been doing that job for 37 years and don’t think it’s that bad!
In his first year in the Navy, Andrew was stationed on a submarine in Guam and was going to be there over the holidays in December. That June, he asked if my wife and I were going to come out to visit and I told him that we probably could. He then asked me for a favor: to cook Christmas on the boat for the guys who are on duty. I was happy to say yes.
The membership here at TPC Potomac is super and so supportive. Without them, this holiday meal for the troops on the ship doesn’t work. The first year, we had a fundraiser and raised $21,000. In a six-month time-period, we put together menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner for Christmas as well as a New Year’s Eve party. The first year it was kind of sparse, just table cloths, no decorations, but they ate good.
One thing lead to another and I was asked to come back and cook again. Of course, I said yes. We put on a fundraiser for a second year and raised $35,000. This went to Christmas on the boat and the New Year’s Eve party. There’s was more to the New Year’s Eve party in year two, with decorations, flowers and a band. In total, we served about 500 people on both days, up from 300 in the first year. Last year we did a fundraiser for the third year and raised $42,000. We added more and had a cartoonist, videographers, a band and a champagne toast.
Over the three years I got to be friendly with the folks on the island. But Andrew is now stationed in Hawaii so we are planning on going out there because these guys deserve it. I don’t know if you’ve been on a submarine before but it’s not pretty. I’ve slept on boat and I think it’s cool, but when these guys are underwater three months, it’s not cool.
I get so much help with our holiday meals and it turned into a big thing. But it’s still growing.
During my time on the submarine for the holidays, Andrew helps me cook in the galley. I sleep on the boat the night before and get to do the whole nine yards, it’s awesome. We get up in the morning and start making breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everyone comes on the boat for meals; the Captain and his family, the Executive Officer and his wife, the Chief of the boat and his wife and kids, they all came on board for dinner on Christmas.
The first time I cooked on the boat, Andrew and I we’re making lunch and I need flour to thicken up a sauce. So open the flour bin and I look in there and there are bugs in the bin. I tell Andrew that there are bugs in the flour.
“Dad it’s okay,” Andrew said. “We’re allowed seven weevils per pound of flour. We can’t throw the flour out, we got to use it.”
That’s how they have to do it, but I couldn’t do that. I shifted them all out of the flour and even at that point, I didn’t want to use it. But that’s the kind of lifestyle they live on a submarine and I got to experience it. They’re called the silent service for a reason because nobody understands or has ever heard what they go through. I thought it was cool for me to try and get exposure for them and at least let people know what they go through.
We finished cooking for Christmas. For New Year’s Eve, we rented out the old navy officer’s facility and had all the families over for a big party. There was a buffet and lobster tails and filet mignons. On New Year’s Eve, I also cooked for the single sailors’ club, the guys who don’t have families and got stationed in Guam. I then sent food down to the boat for the guys who were on duty and couldn’t come to the party.
When Andrew is now back home on leave, chances are we are going out to eat. In his first year in the Navy, Andrew got the two things he didn’t want. He was stationed on a submarine and he was a cook. Andrew did what I thought he would do; he made the best of it. He ends up being right now, the cook on the ship that everyone loves. He cooks with pride. He cooks from his heart. Maybe he doesn’t want to let me down, or maybe that isn’t in it, but I’ve always told him ‘whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.’
The first year I got to the cook for the troops, everyone told me how much they look forward to Andrew’s cooking. He’s gotten the Blue Jacket Award a few times and he’s done so well they’ve asked him to go to dive school this August. Once he passes dive school, his in the process of applying to BUD/S school to become a SEAL and he’s signed up for an additional two years. He’s enjoying Navy life.