Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
Cooking for Christ
Melody Rossiter, 17, wrote the following descriptive essay as a school project. (Her dad, Thayne, is Director of Finances at Bethlehem Baptist Church.) Enjoy.
Although the Sanctuary is in the front of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s Downtown Campus, on a typical Wednesday evening, most of the excitement occurs behind on the opposite side of the building. Sounds of voices, laughter, and clanking silverware float through the air, mixing with the smell of lasagna. While some churches might cater a meal for the congregation before Wednesday night classes, Bethlehem employs Brenda Remus, a cook who puts time and energy into creating the food herself. This is not only economical but also adds a personal touch. However, while the congregation enjoys what Brenda calls “home-style cooking with a gourmet flair,” she stays hidden in the kitchen and does not hear the many thank you’s she deserves. Underneath the fluffy, white bouffant hat and green plaid apron, Brenda Remus has an expert background in culinary arts, a caring personality, and a heart for ministry.
Brenda has always known that she wanted to be in the food industry. “As a little girl my favorite thing was my Easy Bake Oven,” she explains. “I like the whole sensory experience of combining flavors.” After graduating from North Hennepin Technical College in 1994, she found a job as the culinary director at Madeline Island Music Camp, where she worked until 2007. In September of 1997, Brenda also began working at Bethlehem, which she describes as a “really good fit” because it allows her “freedom . . . to experiment” that most five-star restaurants would not. Also, the people are “just really kind,” which is rare for for-profit industries. During Tuesday baking days, the aromas from the kitchen often draw employees from the upper levels down to the kitchen for a sample, but even without the smells, people travel down the four flights of stairs just to chat with Brenda.
Being a chef includes more than just chopping vegetables and frying meat; knowing which ingredients to buy and where to purchase them is also an important aspect of the job. Over the years, Brenda has become a master. Not only does she know which stores have the best produce and meats, but she also has found where she can get the best prices without sacrificing quality. One of her favorite places to shop is Bill’s Imported Foods because of its “ethnic variety.” Brenda may have preferred baking when she was a little girl, but now she enjoys creating main dishes, where savory spices and fresh tastes are important for a quality product.
In addition to hunting down the perfect ingredients, professional cooking is physically demanding. Chefs and kitchen help spend most of the day on their feet surrounded by boiling water, hot stoves, and loud noises while they work with sharp knives. “Some people try to go into other fields, but they always come back [despite these dangers],” Brenda says. While there have been occasional, minor cuts in the church’s kitchen, very few have required professional attention. Once a church member cut his hand on a can opener and needed medical help, but that has been the only serious injury in over 10 years. Brenda attributes this safety to God, saying that his hand has “really protected us.”
Although Brenda has experience working in kitchens, the majority of her assistants do not. Due to a limited budget, Bethlehem does not have any full time employees for the kitchen. Brenda coordinates everything but is considered part-time, and she has only two other part-time helpers and three “on call” employees. The rest of her team consists of volunteers. Brenda focuses on the volunteers themselves instead of the challenges surrounding an uneducated team. The most difficult part, she says, is not the volunteers’ inexperience but that “everyone has got full lives” and “a lot of commitments,” so it is often difficult to find adequate staff. She overlooks lack of skill and sees the hearts of people desiring to serve.
The kitchen where Brenda and her assistants work is huge, with two convectional ovens stacked beside two large stoves. Silver frying pans hang from the ceiling over the metal working tables; underneath are bowls and baking sheets of every imaginable size. Below a window on the far wall is the baking station consisting of gigantic plastic bins containing two types of flours and white sugar, multiple measuring cups, and a three-foot standing mixer. Each sink is labeled with its specific purpose—“Wash Hands,” “Vegetables Only,” and “Dishes”—and the cupboards are marked according to their contents. The wooden vegetable prep table is across from a walk-in refrigerator named “Walter.” This fridge is not the only storage facility with a name; another is called “Gertrude,” the spice cabinet is “Cookie,” and the two freezers are named “Mable” and “Elliot.” Referring to the names allows Brenda to quickly mention locations, and the signs aid volunteers in finding items, making work with newcomers more organized.
Discovering efficient ways to work with volunteers has helped Brenda keep the many events she provides food for running smoothly. Besides the 150–175 meals she prepares for Wednesday dinners, Brenda is in charge of food for most of Bethlehem’s conferences, banquets, and special occasions. One of her favorite events to cook for is the Father-Daughter Tea, a medieval-themed gourmet luncheon with seven courses for girls and their fathers. “It is a labor of love,” Brenda says. “Everything is beautiful.” The work is challenging, but the joy it brings is worth the sore feet and tired legs.
Brenda’s knowledge of cooking, caring disposition, and desire to serve God and others make her not only the perfect church chef but also an amazing friend. She loves trying out exotic recipes, mixing new flavors, and spending time with others who share her passion. With her talent, Brenda could have worked anywhere she wanted, but she chose a church. The task of cooking for a large congregation while balancing food-prep regulations with amateur help is daunting, but when Brenda Remus is on staff, delicious food is always on the menu.
Pastor Sam Crabtree is Bethlehem's Pastor for Small Groups, North.