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Turkey on board

Culinary students serve sailors Thanksgiving meal

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  • Story and photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: Nov. 20, 2007
Leslie Jett delivers a turkey

Instructor Leslie Jett delivers a Southwestern roasted turkey during a buffet lunch at Eckles Hall on Nov. 16. Jett and the student Culinary Scholars will serve Thanksgiving dinner to about 3,200 sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.

Lerin Dirks will not be heading home to Berger, Mo., for Thanksgiving this year. Instead, she’ll head west to San Diego, Calif. to spend the holiday aboard a Navy ship. Instead of having a meal with her family, she’ll be helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner for approximately 3,200 sailors. 

The same goes for the seven other students who make up Mizzou’s Culinary Scholars: Natalie Kollars, Gregory Lindsey, Cassandra McClure, Philip Neel, Wade Ramirez, Thomas Smith and Adam Stanek. The group flew out of St. Louis on Sunday, Nov. 18, to spend a week aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the nation’s largest aircraft carrier.

“My grandpa was in the military, and I have cousins in the military,” says Dirks, a hotel and restaurant management major. “I feel that I’m doing a good thing and helping out.”

Instructor Leslie Jett will join the team in San Diego. The certified executive chef is currently in his sixth year at the University of Missouri as a catering operations and research coordinator. He also has been a Naval Reserve officer since January 2005 and an 18-time veteran of the Adopt-A-Ship program, which recruits chefs and cooks to train food personnel.

Fresh rolls

Hot out of the oven, biscuits made by Mizzou's Culinary Scholars cool in Eckels Hall during a buffet Nov. 16. The student team used the buffet as a practice run for their Thanksgiving meal for the Navy.

In military fashion, students will be expected to adapt and overcome once they board the ship. “It’s a different way of cooking,” Jett says. “There are no open flames on board because everything is either steam-driven or electric.”

On Nov. 16, the Mizzou Culinary Scholars prepared and served approximately 100 people at The Café in Eckles Hall to raise money for their trip — and to practice working together in a situation with real pressure.

With that dry run finished, the students prepared for the trip. According to Jett, the primary mission is a knowledge exchange. Students step outside of classroom theory to learn about mass-volume food production. In turn, they “alleviate some of the stress-load off the culinary specialists, who are some of the most over-committed people in the Navy.”

Read more in:  Agriculture & the EnvironmentBeyond Campus

Reader feedback

  • What a wonderful activity by your unselfish culinary students. As the mother-in-law of an active-duty Seaman FC3, I was deeply touched by your story. These strong-hearted soldiers give up so much to perform their duty.

    Our family recently experienced a horrible tragedy as my sweet daughter, wife of Seaman FC3, passed away during premature labor. He was immediately flown back to the United States. Our own fierce fighter and granddaughter, Kylie, is well on her way to a full recovery, and when she’s released from the NICU, she will join us in Columbia while her very special daddy goes back to his own ship. His captain, crew and affiliated Naval Forces members of his battalion are keeping our family in their thoughts and providing Seaman FC3 with support and friendship.

    What your students are doing this holiday is an inspiration to the goodness and the best in our fragile humanity.

  • A Big Texas size thank you from a Soldiers' Angel for your support for our heroes. Well done. Proud grandmother of a sailor.

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Last updated: June 6, 2013