For anyone who thinks cooking Thanksgiving dinner is hard, try making turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce for 77 people.
That was the task set in front of Mary Buchanan, Patti Disch and their staff, who made a traditional feast Wednesday and Thursday for the guards and inmates at the Moffat County Jail.
Buchanan, Moffat County food service supervisor, cooked eight large turkeys the day before the holiday, and she found time to make Wednesday’s hot meal, too.
She said she was unfazed.
“It’s just cooking more,” Buchanan said. “It’s about the same. I’m just cooking two meals in one day.”
And it’s always easy to do something you enjoy, she added.
“I love to cook,” she said. “I just find it very relaxing.”
Buchanan was on vacation for Thanksgiving, though, leaving the last of the prep work and cooking to Disch, 62, who works with the county’s dietary services department, and three inmates who help in the kitchen.
Even though she was working in a jail on Thanksgiving, Disch was chipper, and in the spirit of the holiday, she was thankful.
This year, she was most thankful for a job.
“I was let go from K-Mart in March, after February, because I was making too much money,” Disch said. “I waited for a while to find something, and I was living on unemployment for some of that. I was very grateful to find this. I’ve worked in food for a long time.”
Like Buchanan, Disch said cooking is one of those personal retreats she has always enjoyed.
“My mother was southern, and she cooked,” Disch said, adding that her mother was from Georgia originally, though Disch was raised in Michigan. “She cooked all the time.”
The kitchen staff, made up of three inmates, had their own thanks to give Thursday.
Fernando Rojas, 30, and Ector Deluna, 18, couldn’t resist the smells coming from the turkey slices swimming in juice, the giblet gravy so thick it coated the ladle, or the creamy green bean casserole.
“I’m thankful we get to have this kind of dinner, even though we’re incarcerated,” Rojas said.
For the third member of the staff, Brent Chedsey, 36, his thanks was reserved for those in his life on the outside.
“I have a very healthy and supportive family,” Chedsey said. “And my child. I’m thankful for that.”
Buchanan said the inmates’ help goes above and beyond what one would typically expect.
As much as Rojas and Chedsey said they have learned from and respect what Buchanan can do in the kitchen, the chef said she learns from the inmates.
The jail houses several Native Americans, she said, who like to come in the kitchen to cook traditional fry bread, a crispy, fluffy piece of fried dough, not unlike a Mexican sopapilla, which different inmates also taught Buchanan how to make.
“I’m cooking with them the whole time,” she said. “They know how to do that. I don’t know how to do that, but I love to learn things.”
As Disch and the kitchen team assembled the plates for everyone at the jail — a mound of moist turkey here, a hefty scoop of dressing there, a lot of gravy everywhere — the dinner rolls and pumpkin pies came out.
Disch said Buchanan made all the rolls and pies from scratch.
Rojas took one look and declared they would help fulfill the holiday’s promise, even for those behind bars.
“They’re going to make a lot of people happy,” he said.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.