Make no bones about it, Christmas dinner prep starts early at Ottawa Mission

The Ottawa Mission is already getting ready for its Dec. 16 Christmas dinner, where they'll serve thousands of plates of turkey with all the fixings. But did you know they have to debone all those birds first?

Shelter clients, new Canadians kept busy deboning, cooking 80 birds for Dec. 16 meal

Early birds: Lloyd Richards, right, is a longtime volunteer at the Ottawa Mission. Standing next to him is Dan Lacroix, a first-time volunteer. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The knives were out early at The Ottawa Mission on Monday, where volunteers and food service students were already busy de-boning and cooking 80 turkeys at 6 a.m.

They're already preparing for the Mission's Dec. 16 Christmas dinner, where thousands of hungry guests will be served.

Chef Ric Watson said they have to start the prep early because the kitchen at the Mission is responsible for churning out more than 1,300 meals every day, regardless of whatever else is going on.

"We'll debone the turkeys, we'll cook them, and then we'll vacuum-pack them and then we'll freeze them," he told Hallie Cotnam of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday.

"And then a couple days before the Christmas dinner we'll pull them out, defrost them and slice them. Because to actually try to do this 2,500 pounds [of turkey] a couple days before the Christmas dinner would be impossible."

Chef Ric Watson, centre, oversees the crew, including longtime volunteers Lloyd Richards, left, and Jim Deyell, right. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

'Starting life fresh'

The people doing the work include staff at the Mission, longtime volunteers and students in the Mission's food services training program. The program gives clients of the Mission, new Canadians and others the training they need to find work in the culinary industry.

"There's nothing better in my life than to see, at a graduation ... these guys moving forward and being able to change their life. And each one of them has a unique story and I get to know their stories. It just gives me so much pleasure and pride to be able to do that," Watson said.

Food service students Lionel Martinez, left, and Winston Sharp. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Winston Sharp is one of the students, and said it's changed his life. He's planning to start work in a nursing home soon after graduation.

"My wife passed away a couple years ago and then I was aimless for two years, just wandered around the country. And then I ended up coming here ... and I saw a poster about the course. I just thought it was for me," he said.

"I'm graduating in a few weeks and I'm pretty happy, starting my life over. I totally reinvented myself. I consider myself just starting life fresh."

'Here, life is real'

Lionel Martinez came to Canada with his family from Colombia, where he worked as a financial analyst.

"I felt I was ready to take this training because I want to find a job in the cooking field," Martinez said. "I had different expectations about finding jobs and everything, because my working field in Colombia was different."

Jim Deyell, who's been volunteering at the Mission for about 15 years, said it's rewarding to see students move forward with their lives.

"Here, life is real, and you feel it's worthwhile, it really is.... You see someone in here who's never had a job in their life and now working here, and they're in their 40s. Imagine that. That's what the Mission does."

About 80 turkeys are being prepared for the 2018 Christmas dinner. They'll have enough food for 3,000 plates, if needed. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
The preparation needs to be done this far in advance because the kitchen wouldn't be able to handle it all a few days before the Christmas dinner. They still produce about 1,300 regular meals each day. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
From left to right, Lacroix, Richards and Deyell pose for a photo. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning