The cook team had under two hours to finish dinner for 75 people, but Chef Dale Levitski of Sinema calmly mixed meatloaf like a pro.
He combined donated ground beef, pork and venison. Then he added seasoning, eggs, parsley from the garden and oatmeal, which had been donated after a warehouse ordering mistake.
“Meatloaf is something you don’t really measure, you just make it,” he said. ““My mom always did oatmeal in meatloaf. I grew up eating it. It was the 70's. I’ve always loved my mom’s meatloaf."
Brenda Reed, one of the Sinema owners and a regular volunteer at The Nashville Food Project, joined Chef Dale to cook as well as Brenda’s friend Debbi Fields, the woman behind the famous Mrs. Field’s cookies.
While Dale worked on the main course, Brenda and Debbi looked after the sizzling bacon for a batch of kale cooked with brown sugar, vinegar and a touch of cayenne.
“Is that bacon done?” Dale asked.
“Yes, Chef,” Brenda replied.
But even if it hadn't been, easy-going Dale said he doesn’t get too worked up under pressure.
“I think if you’re going to be a leader in the kitchen, and you’re losing your temper, you’re not leader." He jokes with his cooks that he can yell only once a year.
Chef Dale Levitski moved to Nashville two years ago in March from Chicago. He brought celebrity status with him from his time on Top Chef, but his experience goes much deeper.
After finishing the meatloaf, he moved on to a dressing for lettuce from the garden that Meals Manager Anne Sale had cleaned and prepped.
“Salad dressing is one of the first things I learned to make,” he said, whirling together a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, dry mustard, sugar and salt.
Dale skipped culinary school and worked his way up in the business instead. In addition to Sinema, he's planning on opening a fast-casual restaurant called The Hook in 2016.
As he whisked the dressing, Debbi quizzed him for tips.
“I usually use grape seed oil because it’s super-light and olive oil tastes more heavy,” he said. But of course he rolls with the nature of using what's on hand at TNFP. “We’ll make it work,” he says.
“That’s the right answer,” Anne says.
Just before 11 a.m., the prep room began to buzz with activity as volunteers showed up to take the food to John Glenn retirement home.
Volunteer Marilyn Lane poked her head into the kitchen to pass along praise. She delivers to John Glenn weekly. “They love this food and would have a hard time without it,” she said.
Intern Noelle Brown also stopped in to meet Debbi.
“I didn’t have an Easy-Bake Oven growing up," she said. "I had a Mrs. Fields Oven."
The chefs gave their dishes a final taste and volunteers plated the food to show how it would be served – meatloaf, green salad, kale and carrots with Mrs. Fields cookies for dessert.
“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Dale said. “I haven’t made meatloaf in years.”