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Culinary Students Prepare for Thanksgiving Feast

    by Emilie Jenson, Public Information Office
    Posted on 11/17/2023

As Iowa Central students prepare to travel home for Thanksgiving break, another group of students will be busy in the kitchen instead.

Iowa Central Culinary Arts and Baking students have been preparing for the annual Fort Dodge Ford Community Thanksgiving Dinner for nearly two weeks and will spend the holiday cooking and serving nearly 2000 meals, complete with turkey and all the trimmings.

“When everyone else goes home, these students will stay and put in around 30 hours of volunteer time per student,” said Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Program Coordinator Chef Michael Hirst.

Since 2009, the culinary students have been partnering with the local auto dealership to prepare a free Thanksgiving dinner. The partnership with Iowa Central began when Fort Dodge Ford owners Casey and Deb Johnson and their family decided to host a dinner in the showroom of their dealership but knew that such a large-scale event would require more resources and labor than the four of them could provide solely on their own.

The students prepared and served a traditional Thanksgiving meal for around 250-300 people that first year, and it has grown significantly each year since its inception, now feeding 1000-2000 people.

In the days and weeks leading up to the event, students have been busy in the culinary kitchen preparing nearly 1,600 pounds of turkey, with every piece being used for the meal.

“We start with 75 20-to-25-pound turkeys which prepping began last Friday,” said Hirst. “We made 250 gallons of turkey broth; half will go into the gravy and half will be used in the dressing.”

As culinary students Alex Baker and Trey Wilkins lent a hand in the kitchen chopping green beans the Friday before Thanksgiving, their primary job was still ahead of them as they prepare the desserts for the meal.

“We made 300 pie crusts yesterday,” said Wilkins. “And last week we made and weighed all the pie fillings. We’ll start filling and baking the pies on Monday.”

Their work will yield nearly 900 servings of pumpkin, apple, blueberry and pecan pies.

“It went by a lot quicker than I thought it would,” said Baker. “It is a lot of prep, but it is all worth it.”

“It is a challenge, sometimes a struggle; but we are all in it together,” said student Madison Hepperle. “It is definitely the most food I have ever helped cook but I am glad to have the opportunity to do it.”

“It is nice to know that the food I made is for something like this,” said Baker. “Others will be eating it and if they enjoy it, that makes me happy.”


Iowa Central/Fort Dodge Ford Thanksgiving by the Numbers

  • 1,600 pounds of turkey
  • 900 servings of pie
  • 450 pounds of potatoes
  • 300 pounds of bread stuffing
  • 250 pounds of sausage meat dressing
  • 250 gallons of turkey stock
  • 125 pounds of cranberry sauce


Culinary Students Prepare for Thanksgiving Feast

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