10 Questions for Ted Luoma of Mercy Chefs

Ted LuomaTed Luoma is writer of cateritforward and a volunteer chef with Mercy Chefs, a nonprofit disaster relief organization. Here he shares his experiences with Mercy Chefs. (Photos by Ted Luoma) 

What is Mercy Chefs?

Mercy Chefs is a nonprofit organization that serves people restaurant-quality meals in disaster areas. All staff—from the CEO to the dishwashers—is volunteers. Nobody receives a salary and Mercy Chefs relies 100 percent on donations.

Are you a chef?

Not even close! Mercy Chefs appeals to me because I get to rub elbows with real chefs. I have no training. My chef friends give me direction to hone my skills, and they treat me as an equal. At best, I would consider myself an apprentice.

What made you learn how to cook?

I began teaching myself how to cook about a week after I met my wife 17 years ago. She invited me over for dinner, and I was treated to a hearty plate of Hamburger Helper. Now, I’m not knocking Hamburger Helper, nor am I denigrating my lovely wife; but cooking for someone is very intimate. You expend your love and creativity to create something to please and comfort others. I realized that I wanted more in life than meat slop.

Where have you served with Mercy Chefs?

In Vilonia, AR
In Vilonia, AR

I served two weeks in Chambrun, Haiti. I served in LaPlace and Kenner, Louisiana, in response to Hurricane Isaac. Numerous tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City area last year, and we served in Moore as a result. I spent a couple of days in West, Texas, after the fertilizer plant explosion. The Red Cross actually chased us off. I guess they wanted to be in the spotlight since President Obama came to visit. I just returned from Vilonia, Arkansas, where a half-mile wide tornado ravaged the area. We were immensely blessed on that trip. One business gave us 60 pounds of live crawfish.

What is a typical deployment like?

There is nothing typical on these trips. There is a lot of hard work and you generally work from 5:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m. I buy my own gas to drive to the disaster site. Sometimes we stay at hotels, but normally a church will make room for us.

What was your most memorable deployment?

Greeley, Colorado. I met Chef John in Dallas and we jumped in the truck and began towing Mercy 1, the very first kitchen trailer. It is a 37-foot trailer complete with a six-burner range, tilt skillet, commercial sink, two convection ovens, and all the cookware required to feed an army.

It was my turn at the wheel. As we passed through Amarillo, Texas, the fuel gauge showed we only had about a quarter-tank. John and I decided that we had enough diesel to get some more miles behind us before we stopped. The motor acted up periodically and I sniffed something that faintly smelled like burning antifreeze. A quick check of the gauges revealed nothing; we didn’t have much choice but to press on.

Serving in Kenner, LA
In Kenner, LA

We rolled into Dumas, Texas, on nothing but fumes. As I began turning into a truck stop, steam began to rise from the hood. I was caught off-guard and cut the wheel too sharp. I took out the trash cans next to a gas pump with our mobile kitchen. I could barely contain my laughter. I finally brought our rig to a stop next to the fuel pump. Antifreeze had drained all over the ground and it appeared we were in trouble.

This was a Sunday evening and we were surprised to find a mechanic to investigate. The radiator was shot and one had to be ordered from Amarillo. Our only option was to hole up at the Quality Inn and wait—for two days. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful—except for the blowout on the trailer after we left Colorado. We learned a valuable lesson on that journey: Dumas is a glorified truck stop. We will not go back…too many radiator memories.

Aside from Mercy Chefs, what do you do?

In a word: housewife. At least that’s what I tell people when they ask that question. I do the cooking; as for the cleaning, not so much. There is the catering thing, too.

Have you always volunteered?

I never wasted my time thinking about others before my conversion. Now a Christian, I’m much more concerned with others than I used to be. I can thank my church for that because it encourages serving.

What is your favorite Bible verse?

Mercy ChefsJohn 14:6 is probably my favorite. Jesus Christ sums up his position as “the way, the truth, and the life.” His “club” is very exclusive. It’s nice to have that clarity in a postmodern age in which there are many truths.

Have you ever had a job besides cooking that you enjoyed?

I was a disc jockey for 12 years. I’m not a natural when it comes to radio. It took years of effort to grow into just as it has to be a competent “chef.” I could have worked in a major market, but radio isn’t conducive to having a stable family. The thought of moving every couple of years wasn’t appealing to my wife. I just put that effort into cooking. I figure I’ll be pretty good after another 10 years of practice.

What questions do you have for Ted? 

Learn more about Mercy Chefs at MercyChefs.com. Read more by Ted at cateritforward.

5 thoughts on “10 Questions for Ted Luoma of Mercy Chefs

  1. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through
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  2. Ted, what has been the most meaningful interaction with a person, perhaps in need, or with a devastated area that you’ve encountered?

    • That’s a tough one as I don’t get a lot of exposure. I’m usually in the kitchen. But there was a time in Trussville, AL. We were talking to a couple that survived in spite of their home being completely obliterated. There was just rubble. They spray painted their address on a door and stuck it on top of the pile so you could identify it.

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