Top Chefs

"In culinary, this is the best job in the valley."


"Yes chef!"

Turn on the television almost any hour of the day, and you'll find the airwaves filled with food. Iron Chef, Master Chef, Top Chef. No matter the competition, you'll quickly lose count of the times that people shout, "Yes chef!" or "No chef!"

But inside one of Idaho's biggest and busiest kitchens, there will be none of that.

"They always tell us to call them by their first names. So, it's always 'Yes Jack' or 'No Jack,'" said Sean Coles, a top chef-in-training.

Jack is 55-year-old Jack D'Orazio one of two top chefs at the Centennial Job Corps in Nampa. The other top chef is his big brother and boss, 62-year-old Sam D'Orazio.

Following a culinary life in which he prepared meals for presidents, prime ministers and royalty, Sam is preparing the next generation of kings and queens of the kitchen.

The cavernous kitchens of the Centennial Job Corps prepare three giant meals a day--a typical lunch menu includes chicken, roast beef, turkey, two types of pasta, four different salads, and don't get them started on desserts. Their "customers" are a select group: 300 students living on campus.

The federal program houses, feeds and trains the young adults from Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Each is enrolled in a two-year trade program, in which they become certified accountants, carpenters, chefs, electricians or nurses.

Twice a year, the brothers D'Orazio and their students prepare a feast for some very special customers. As BW was going to press, the chefs were putting the finishing touches on a Thanksgiving banquet for thousands of men, women and children who don't know where their next meal will come from. And between now and Christmas, the Centennial crew will cook holiday meals for nearly 9,000 of Idaho's hungriest.

This is the 13th year that Sam has worked with the Boise Rescue Mission to present Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Each year, thousands fill Nampa's First Church of the Nazarene for what is billed as "The Great Thanksgiving Banquet," sponsored by the Boise Rescue Mission. In addition to an all-day meal, food boxes, shoes and winter coats are distributed.

"He's the man," said Jack pointing to his brother. "He arranges it all."

"Yeah, but he's the man who actually makes it happen," Sam responded.

Jack begins preparing the "great Thanksgiving banquet" in October. When he's done, he'll have prepared about 300 turkeys. And don't forget the 5,000 beef tamales, a few tons of green beans, 40 industrial-sized pans of dressing and another 40 pans of homemade mashed potatoes. And are you ready for this? Eighty gallons of gravy. Dessert? Countless apple, blueberry, cherry and pumpkin pies. Plus a few dozen cakes.

While talking to Jack, BW quickly learned not to get between him and a turkey. At least while he's holding a knife.

"I can break down three turkeys in a minute," Jack smiled.

"I'm talking about cutting off the breasts, thighs, legs and wings to prepare it for the oven. I can do about three in a minute."

His students nodded.

"Yeah, I can do about one in a minute, and I think that's pretty amazing," said Coles, a second-year student.

Jack laughed.

"But I'm kind of slow now. I used to be able to cut them up a bit quicker."

Jack started as a chef when he was 19.

"I've been a chef for uranium miners up in Canada. I was head chef at Crane Creek Country Club here in Boise. I worked 10 years for Albertsons. And I ran Tri-City Meats for years," said Jack. "Yeah, I've been holding a knife for a while now."

Jack was recently invited to the White House along with a select number of other job corps chefs. He was even selected by Michelle Obama to participate in a "top chef" contest.

"We made a side dish, which is much tougher than an entree," said Jack. "We made a vegetable medley with three different types of squash. I added a peach amaretto sauce and just a hint of goat cheese. Some Washington, D.C., school kids said they loved it."

But Sam has pulled down even more accolades over the years. As head chef for a resort hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Sam represented Team Canada in a 1982 world competition and took second place. Sam has even cooked for the Queen of England, twice.

But Jack and Sam both said the best meal they prepare is the one that will be served Wednesday, Nov. 24, at "The Great Thanksgiving Banquet."

"In culinary, this is the best job in the valley," said Jack.

"It's an honor," said Sam.