Minn. chef jumps from fine restaurant to soup kitchenST. PAUL – No one makes reservations at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, but at the Army’s eastside service center on Payne Avenue, it might be time. With a craftsman’s eye, Jeff Ansorge toils over pan-seared lemon parmesan salmon.
By: Boyd Huppert, KARE-TV, INFORUM
ST. PAUL – No one makes reservations at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, but at the Army’s eastside service center on Payne Avenue, it might be time.
With a craftsman’s eye, Jeff Ansorge toils over pan-seared lemon parmesan salmon.
“It adds caramelization to the salmon,” Ansorge explains, “and it gives it a better flavor profile.”
Check the sign again. Yep, this is the Salvation Army, but Ansorge is definitely not the typical Salvation Army cook.
This time last year, Ansorge was at the top of his profession. He was a graduate of a prestigious culinary school and had risen through the ranks to become executive chef at one of Minnesota’s finest restaurants – the Capital Grille.
But, a few months later, it’s all gone – and by Ansorge’s own doing.
“His application came in, and it was almost too good to be true,” says Capt. John Joyner, who posted the ad for a cook last summer.
Joyner had doubts Ansorge was seriously interested, “because he’s so overqualified.”
But soon the new cook was re-equipping the kitchen with braising pans and French knives, as he cleared space in the cooler for items definitely not associated with soup kitchens.
“It’s a block of Pecorino Romano,” he explains to a visitor. “It’s sheep milk’s cheese.”
What possessed him to do it? With bonuses, Ansorge had annual earnings of around $100,000 working as an executive chef. His new job is paying a third of that.
Ansorge says he was struggling with the end of his marriage, when he realized his spiritual life was empty.
“I was at the peak of my career, absolutely,” he says, “but none of it left me feeling fulfilled.”
Ansorge decided to make a change. Then he took his culinary skills to the people who could least afford them.
“I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing,” he says cheerfully while dispensing food in the serving line, “God’s work.”
The regular diners have noticed the change.
“We have nice vegetables, a nice grade of meat,” says one.
“The butter and bread, it’s delicious.”
Instead of canned fruits and vegetables, Ansorge and his volunteers are now cutting it all up fresh.
Gone are unbuttered buns and coffee with powdered cream. Ansorge insists on real dairy.
“I have it at my house, so I’m going to have it at my lunch program,” he says.
Also gone are daily meals of mostly processed food.
“They were serving the chicken strips instead of the chicken,” laughs frequent diner Frances Pierce. “And now they’re serving the chicken.”
Less processed food means Jeff is also saving money. By bringing a chef’s creativity to donated and reduced price food, the man who once crafted $45 entrees has reduced the Salvation Army’s lunch cost to 63 cents a meal.
It may not be a miracle on the scale of loaves and fishes, but Jeff Ansorge has taken a page from the same cookbook.
“Faith is part of the recipe,” he says. “It’s the main ingredient, you know.”