Through BBQ at sub base, Connecticut chef finds way to give back
Groton — As a cook in the Army, Dan Monroe knew a key part of his job was to boost morale.
That was particularly true during the holidays. At the chow hall, they would do something special — decorate cakes, "pull out the steaks." One time there was an ice sculpture.
"You can feel the difference on the base when they're working, and it's the holidays, and they're far away from their families," Monroe said Friday.
Back in September, Monroe was explaining this to his friend Kristopher Plummer, who goes by the name Chef Plum, while a guest on his live food talk show "Plumluvfoods." The next day, Plum called the Navy and asked if he could cook a barbecue meal for sailors at the Naval Submarine Base.
Eighteen briskets, eight pork butts and two 50-pound pigs later, and Plum's plan had gone off without a hiccup — a rarity when putting on a big event, he said.
Four-hundred people, mainly sailors and their families, were expected to attend the meal.
"These people protect us every single day. If we can come out here for one day and cook something, 100 percent we should be doing that," said Plum, who's been featured on Food Network and hosts the television show "Restaurant Road Trip."
He brought together a group of his chef friends to prepare the meal and share cooking techniques with staff at the Cross Hall Galley on base and sailors from the Naval Submarine School. The meal was open to anyone with base access. American Idol winner Nick Fradiani of Guilford performed for the guests.
The experience brought Monroe back to his days as a cook in the Army — he served from 1997 to 2000 — when he was "just trying to figure out what I was doing."
"I see all these kids in here trying to do the same thing. You don't know where it's going to take you. The Army, it saved my life. I was headed down the wrong path. I was a knucklehead," he said.
Zeke Gutierrez, 19, of San Clemente, Calif., a sub school sailor, wasn't able to go home for the holidays.
"Food was a really big thing from back home. Family, being close and sharing a hot meal," Gutierrez said, seated in front of a plate full of pork, salmon and sweet potato mash.
"For them to throw something like this, it makes me feel I'm still part of the holidays, and I'm not forgotten," he said.
The meal will be featured in the first episode of a new show from Plum called "Random Acts of Cooking" on Only Good TV. The idea is to use food to make good things happen, he said.
"Everything important in life happens around food," Plum said. "Whether you're going on a first date, whether you're getting married, whether someone dies. What do we do? We eat."