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Keeping Meals rolling

Alyssa Jung

Chef Monique Bonet of the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Albany is used to whipping up 1,500 meals a day with her sous chef Lawrence Gilliam. But for the past two Mondays, they’ve gotten an extra hand with chefs from two local restaurants adding their personal touch to the meals and kitchen.

Senior Services of Albany runs Meals on Wheels and launched the Celebrity Chef Challenge to raise awareness about the service and hopefully garner volunteer and financial support.

“We’re trying to build awareness about Meals on Wheels in general to the community to let them know that we exist and are an organization that needs support,” said Donna Vancavage, director of development for Senior Services of Albany.

Chef Yono Purnomo from Yono’s and Chef LJ Ehlers from On Tap restaurant at the Holiday Inn Express in Latham contributed a unique recipe and helped Bonet prepare it. On Monday, Nov. 14, Purnomo made a chicken dish with coconut milk, an anomaly in the Meals on Wheels kitchen. On Monday, Nov. 21, Ehlers offered an Italian-style meatloaf with mashed potatoes and Italian green beans. Both chefs had to abide by Albany County guidelines that dictate the meals must be low in fat and sodium while meeting nutritional needs and staying within budget.

Creating flavorful meals in such large batches on a daily basis is a challenge, said Bonet, who prepared 300,000 meals in 2010.

“How do you make 500 hot meals taste good? Every plate has to look good,” said Bonet. “We have minimal equipment to get it down, very little money to work with and sometimes get limited in vegetable and fruit and are stuck with the same few options.”

Bonet is responsible for preparing about 500 hot meals and 300 cold meals for seniors every day, plus more than 700 meals for three schools.

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