Rick Kangas: Feeding peoples souls in Eagle | VailDaily.com

Rick Kangas: Feeding peoples souls in Eagle

Kathy Heicherkheicher@eaglevalleyenterprise.comEagle CO, Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyChef Rick Kangas, left, prepares turkey to be cooked for the Golden Eagle Senior Center Thanksgiving dinner while Emma Jean "Grandma" Wilcox, center, and Marty Southerland help in the kitchen.

EAGLE, Colorado Rick Kangas made his chef reputation locally by working at upscale up-valley resort restaurants, such as the Grouse Mountain Grille in Beaver Creek, Blus restaurant in Vail, and at Chefs Corner in Cordillera.But after 33 years in the profession, Kangas has what he describes as one of his best chef-jobs ever: Hes working for the Eagle County senior nutrition sites, preparing lunches twice a week in Eagle and Minturn.The menus reflect his expertise. At a special luncheon in Minturn last week honoring supporters of the senior programs the menu featured red pepper bisque with a puff pastry crouton, crab cakes on spinach salad with papaya salsa, and ice cream with pomegranate sauce for dessert.We try to do special things on special days, confides the soft-spoken Kangas. Working with a nutritionist, Kangas has worked out menus that include a mix of homey comfort food, such as pork chops braised with apples, or pot roast; and more adventurous meals. Recent lunches have featured entrees such as moussaka (a sort of Greek casserole featuring eggplant and ground lamb); and ratatouille, a vegetable stew of featuring squash and tomatoes. Hes even figured out a healthy version of fried ice cream, which he serves as dessert on Mexican -theme menus. (Hint: It isnt really fried. Rather, the ice cream is rolled in toasted cereals and coconut.)Were so lucky. Were totally spoiled, says Kathy Dunn-Lewis, senior site coordinator for the county. Lunch attendance has increased notably since Kangas started cooking.Kangas is a self-taught chef. The oldest of five children, he first started cooking family dinners when he was 8 years old. Both his grandmother and mother were excellent cooks.I learned through osmosis, he says.The seniors are receptive to the adventurous menus, he says.At first they were skeptical. Now theyll eat anything I cook, he insists. During his 33 years as a chef, Kangas has been able to mix his profession with his love of travel.Hes cooked in Glacier National Park, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as in various ski resort communities here. Hes taught cooking classes for Johnson & Wales University.Still, his current job, cooking for the Eagle County seniors, is one of his best gigs.The job offers a working situation that is unusual for a chef: regular, daytime shifts (he works four, 10-hour days), weekends off, paid holidays, and full employee benefits from the county. The pressures and demands are greatly reduced from what executive chefs at high end restaurants typically experience.Kangas says many people harbor misconceptions about the senior nutrition program. He isnt cooking for a nursing home, he points out.This is about getting the seniors out of the house, and giving them something to do, a reason to network, says Kangas. Its all about providing a nutritionally balanced meal that they wouldnt cook at home. He suspects that for some of the seniors, the prepared lunches are the best meals of the week.Its not feeding just the physical body. Its feeding the mind and the soul, says Kangas. When people are enjoying a meal, theres an upbeat change in the level and tone of conversation.When this interview ended, Kangas was headed back to the kitchen to start preparations for the Thanksgiving luncheon. He was planning a new spin on the traditional dessert: pumpkin cheesecake.Its not what you do. Its how you do it, he notes, I always say add a little bit of love.Kathy Heicher can be reached at kheicher@eaglevalleyenterprise.com

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