Sunday, December 26, 2010

‘Kitchen witch’ keeps it all together at annual dinner

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2010 3:30 am | Updated: 3:38 am, Sun Dec 26, 2010.

There was no yelling, no hurry, no last-minute catastrophe as volunteers served guests for the associated student government’s 40th annual Christmas Eve Dinner.

Coordinator Tammie Parker credits the evening’s efficiency to Jon Spilker, the “kitchen witch.”

“He comes in here and gets everyone lined up and everybody has a job,” Parker said. “It runs smoothly because of him.”

Spilker is a bit more modest. After 18 years of running the kitchen, he said he has learned many lessons to help him. His first year was nowhere near as smooth, he said.

Spilker’s daughter had asked him to help. When he arrived he got the job of “kitchen witch,” which means he organizes who does what in the kitchen.

“They had nobody else,” Spilker said. “When she brought people in, she’d say, ‘this is the kitchen witch, you do what he says.’”

The mashed potatoes proved to be the biggest disaster that first year.

Spilker, along with everyone else, had never used an industrial strength mixer. They poured in the instant potatoes and water and flipped the switch, not knowing it was set on high.

“It was like a huge snowstorm,” Spilker recalled with a smile. “All these great big snowflakes. Everybody in the room got it.”

Despite the unexpected blizzard of potatoes, the night went fairly well. They still served the usual quota of 400 to 500 people. And at the end of the evening, Spilker knew he’d be back the next year.
Over the past 18 years he has learned many lessons.

One year the directions on the turkey said to defrost it in the refrigerator. That didn’t work. When Spilker arrived at noon on Christmas Eve, only four hours before dinner would be served, all the turkey was still frozen.
“What do you do with 500 pounds of frozen turkey? We broiled it,” he said.

Even this year, when things went smoothly, Spilker knows not to let his guard down. He said he never knows when some new problem may crop up.

“They keep surprising you,” he said. “It keeps it interesting.”

But the most credit, he said, goes to the volunteers who come back year after year.

When Spilker first started as kitchen witch, only the students volunteered. That meant  new students each year. And each year he would have to teach them how to operate kitchen appliances and cook the dinner.

In recent years, more community members have made volunteering for the dinner a part of their Christmas tradition. All those in the kitchen know their jobs well now.

Spilker looks forward to the sense of community he feels each year. If he wasn’t at BMCC on Christmas Eve, he would likely be at home.

“I would be at home thinking about myself. Why do that when I can go up and help so many people?” he said. “I have a choice to help so many people who really need the help or be selfish and help myself. I think that’s why most people do it. Christmas isn’t about helping yourself.”

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