The masses of Glide Memorial Church patrons filed down the worn steps of the ragged 1930s building. In the dining room, the din of daily chaos was already in full swing.
Reverend Cecil Williams stood in the middle of the room, greeting diners as they brushed past clutching trays of food.
“Welcome brother,” he said. “Enjoy your meal.”
The meal is one of millions Glide has served over the past four decades. But on Monday night, the menu was a little different.
In the kitchen, chef Khai Duong shepherded a flock of volunteer servers and barked orders: “Do you need potstickers?” “How much more sweet and sour pork do you have?”
On a normal day, Duong would oversee a fleet of seasoned chefs at his chic Ana Mandara restaurant. But today, he is helping to feed 2600 humbled diners, who couldn’t afford an appetizer off his menu.
A few feet away, chef Yoshi Tome pushed through the scrum of people, watching as a group of elderly Chinese women dove into their trays of gourmet food.
“We do something for paying customers all year long,” said Tome, owner of Sausalito’s Sushi Ran restaurant. ”Once a year we can give back to the regular people.”
This is the sixth year members of the Asian Chef’s Association have shown up to cook for the down-and-out of Glide. Today’s menu included sweet and sour pork, Chinese egg rolls, Asian cole slaw and stir-fry chicken with vegetables.
The group of top chefs got a little help from chefs-in-training from the California Culinary Academy. The students spent Sunday readying the ingredients for the feast.
“Yesterday they spent all day prepping for 2,600 people and they found out about cooking," said instructor chef Michael Weller. ”Today they get to find out what it really means because we’re feeding people.”
“Delicious,” said one elderly man as he climbed the steps leading out of the dining room.
He paused for a brief second to survey the tables of diners busily digging into their meals. He glanced at chef Duong barking orders. And then shuffled back out into the cruel reality of San Francisco’s Tenderloin.