Making “Meals that Heal”

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Chef Shawn Rocchi and poached pears

There are few things more distressing than having a sick child in the hospital. But the situation can be doubly distressing if that hospital happens to be in another city or far from home.

As most of you probably know, Ronald McDonald House, was built with the mandate to ease some of that distress by providing a comfortable place for parents to stay, at a nominal fee, close to their hospitalized child. What you may not know is that Hamilton’s Ronald McDonald House (www.rmhhamilton.ca) has its very own chef, Shawn Rocchi, who recently visited our Go Cooking kitchen for an evening of innovative culinary classics.

Hiring a real chef was a very successful pilot project at Hamilton’s Ronald McDonald House and Chandell Tunney, Executive Director, explained the rationale: In the first place, she noted, all of the RM Houses are governed by international standards and it’s important that meals are prepared with proper food handling guidelines. In addition, someone was needed to make up nutritious meal plans, to do economical food purchasing and to co-ordinate meals for 60 to 100 people a day. In Hamilton, community groups often volunteered to “adopt” a meal for a night at the house and someone was needed to take volunteers into the professional stainless steel kitchen and help them prepare the meal. The culinary program that evolved, called “Meals that Heal”, has become a great participatory event for local volunteer groups, but it also includes a program specifically designed for local businesses wishing to support families while hosting their own team-building sessions. Volunteers not only have a lot of fun, but get a cooking class as well.

Shawn’s actual title is “Chef/Culinary Program Manager”, and he was hired, Tunney says, not only for his professional expertise, but also because of his personality — “He’s just good with the public and amazing with the families.” We had a great chance to see the amiability in action at our Go Cooking session, an evening which was dedicated to that seductively curved and gently blushing fruit, “the pear.”

The menu included a pear and cheddar pie for dessert and a salad starter of that perfect combination — poached pear and blue cheese. The salad was embellished with a savory dressing that contained double smoked bacon. The centrepiece of the dinner was an entrée that included braised petit beef filet, pancetta stuffed potatoes and spicy caramelized carrots, shallots and pears. The beef filet was a special cut called the “clod tender”, an economical cut known for its intense flavour and ease of preparation.

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The variety of flavours, textures and aromas in this dinner complemented each other perfectly and the pear motif was like a simple thread that tied the various courses together. Why “the pear”, I wondered? Rocchi noted that at one time he had been part of a catering company called “A Pair of Pears” and — well — quite simply — he just liked that particular fruit. I should mention also that the wine selection was very well received. Dawn Nickerson Ramsey, from Bacchus Sommelier Services had chosen an Australian wine from the Barossa Valley called The Strapper (LCBO 295873) to accompany the beef filet. Yalumba, the wine company, characterizes it as a “well-bred, strapping and savory wine” — and its deep ruby-red colour added much to the meal’s afterglow of warmth and contentment. Rocchi, who has a penchant for understatement, called this dinner “simple comfort food” which did make some of our guests giggle.

Anyway, if you are interested in volunteering at Ronald McDonald House or participating in the “Adopt-a-Meal” program call 905/5219983 or email mealsthatheal@rmhhamilton.ca.

And I’ll leave you with the chef’s recipe for Pancetta stuffed Potatoes, a versatile dish that is a great accompaniment to so many different cuts of meat.

Stuffed potato, beef filet and Strapper

Pancetta Stuffed Potato
recipe from Chef Shawn Rocchi, Ronald McDonald House

Ingredients:
2 medium to large potatoes
1/2 cup cooked small diced pancetta
3 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. scallions
2 tbsp. sour cream
2 tbsp. 35% cream
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1) Bake potatoes until cooked, 350 degrees F. for 30- 40 minutes.
2) Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the inside leaving the skin with some potato.
3) Mix all ingredients together and check seasoning.
4) Place the mixture back in potato shell.
5) Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes.

rmhh-rendering02

Ronald McDonald House

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