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The Betty Ehart Senior Center is hoping residents will take advantage of the center as it presents its final Frugal Friday this week. The food related fun is a chance for the senior center to spotlight the chefs during National Senior Center month.
The day in the life of these chefs starts much earlier than for others. Chef Fred Ortiz and Chef Michael Mason begin their day when the sun comes up, in order to serve the seniors each day.
Chef Ortiz has been cooking for 28 years, but has only considered himself a chef for the last 20. Chef Mason has been in the kitchen since he was age 14, doing mainly prep work and was taking the lead by age 16.
Chef Ortiz began his career cooking at Philomena’s Mexican Restaurant, learning the tricks of the trade on the job.
Chef Mason began at a restaurant in Española that was open for just two years and went on to meet Chef Scott Shampine and worked as his apprentice for a few years before continuing on to culinary school to receive a degree.
The BESC chefs work hard, overseeing the menu, ordering the food all while maintaining compliance with state guidelines for nutrition. The chefs feed hundreds of hungry seniors each month, while trying to satisfy the variety of palettes.
What do they enjoy most about their daily delivery of culinary delights? “The seniors and being able to create our own menus,” Chef Ortiz said.
Chef Mason added, “The seniors, any time you need one they are there for you, they have a lifetime of experience they are willing to share with you.”
The chefs have a working garden right outside their door to help them prepare the daily feast.
“We like to use the herbs and spices in our cooking when we can,” Chef Ortiz said.
“Our garden is mainly herbs, so we have fresh herbs and we also dry some for the winter,” Ortiz said.
While Chef Ortiz enjoys the old things and the old ways or cooking, Chef Mason believes that passion and heart is the way to create a successful dish. So what are some of their favorite dishes that they don’t cook up themselves? Chef Ortiz craves his wife Diane’s tamale casserole. Chef Masonsaid that Ortiz makes the only red chile he can eat; “it’s great.”
When not in the kitchen, you can find Ortiz fishing, camping and cutting his own firewood. Mason is a collects everything from coins and baseball cards to muscle cars.
Visit them in the kitchen this Friday. To make reservations, call the senior center at 662-8920 prior to 10 a.m. each day.