Fort Knox finalizes plans for ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving meal
A shift manager in Cantigny Dining Facility at Fort Knox starts the process of hanging some holiday decorations one day prior to the traditional Thanksgiving meal that will be provided to community members Nov. 24, 2021. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Soldiers enjoying lunch at the Cantigny Dining Facility Nov. 23 were likely unaware that the biggest meal of the year was about to happen in less than 24 hours.

The facility looked the same as it does every day. Managers planned it that way.

“We’re going to do things different this year,” said Bob Hoffman, Cantigny Dining Facility manager. “We’re really focused on the meal more than we’ve done in the past.”

They will channel all their efforts to cook, decorate and prepare for the entire event in less than a day: all in an effort to provide Soldiers a more authentic home-cooked meal.

Fort Knox finalizes plans for ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving meal
Cantigny Dining Facility manager Bob Hoffman shows some of the meat prep work that has taken place in preparation for the overnight cooking magic he and his employees will perform in time for the Fort Knox Thanksgiving meal Nov. 24, 2021. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Hoffman said his team of cooks and decorators will accomplish this by arriving in shifts at the conclusion of the dinner meal to devote the entire night and Wednesday morning finalizing the feast. As well, there will be fewer decorations than in previous years, so those that will be placed will have a more natural look to them.

How cooks prepare the various meats is also different from years past.

“We’ve got 250 pounds of prime rib, for instance, and I want to have it on the serving line to where we cut it,” said Hoffman. “Usually, we have a steamship round out there and by the time it gets to the line, it’s like a chunk of meteorite.”

Besides the prime rib, Hoffman said they will also have smoked salmon, 120 pounds of ham, 80 pounds of sizeable shrimp and 120 turkey legs.

“They’ll be looking like Fred Flintstone eating those turkey legs,” said Hoffman.

“And we’re going to do the ham different this year, too. Usually we have the ham already sliced and place it in the oven; and they have burnt edges on them," he continued. "This time, we’re going to put the ham in the oven and slice it afterward."

Dana Womack, Installation Food Program manager, said the plan for a one-day meal prep doesn’t mean they haven’t been working toward the Thanksgiving meal leading up to today. In fact, she estimates that over 150 hours of preparation has already gone into the meal.

Those preparations have include coordinating delivery of all the food items, preparing for COVID measures and organizing and managing Fort Knox leaders who will be serving the troops during the meal.

Hoffman said they are also focusing efforts on more healthy options, including yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and an extensive salad bar.

Fort Knox finalizes plans for ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving meal
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Candies remain one of the items that dining facility employees can easily prepare in advance of the Thanksgiving meal. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Knox finalizes plans for ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving meal
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A Cantigny Dining Facility employee organizes cans of food prior to the start of the overnight Thanksgiving meal work. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Womack said while a lot of prep work has gone into this year’s meal, Hoffman’s plan to get it all done in a night is a tall order.

“Timing is everything, with every dish from the baking to the beef,” said Womack. “These are extensive items, and we definitely don’t want to drop the ball. That’s why they’ll come in the day prior and stay overnight.”

Hoffman said he is up for the task because part of the problem with past Thanksgiving meals was starting the meal items too early. That left meats and other hot items dry and overcooked.

Since he’s been given the green light to make the meal worthy of a home-cooked meal, Hoffman said he is going to take advantage of it.

“I want to give them a great tasting Thanksgiving meal,” said Hoffman. “I want them to say, ‘Wow, that’s the best meal I’ve ever had in the dining facility.’”

Fort Knox finalizes plans for ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving meal
“Let’s talk turkey …” Happy Thanksgiving from Fort Knox, Kentucky! (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL