By Angel McCurdy
Guests at Fisher House of the Emerald Coast received a special treat Wednesday afternoon when celebrity chef Jon Ashton took over the kitchen.
Ashton stood back and smiled as he watched families staying at the temporary housing facility take in each course of his meal: butternut squash soup, Sicilian steak salad and bananas foster.
“It’s an honor for me to be here,” the executive chef for Dash magazine said as he prepared an oil, lemon and rosemary dressing for the salad. “To see people who go across other countries and have been through so much, it’s an honor. This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Ashton served the 12 lucky recipients in Fisher House’s dining room with one dish at a time, explaining each course and its ingredients.
The presentation was a sneak peek of his show Oct. 6 at the Dash Around the Table Cooking Show and Expo at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
As the people at Fisher House chatted with one another and took in the savory smells coming from the kitchen, Ashton whisked his dressing, added a few pinches of coarse sea salt and gave it a taste.
“Just lovely,” he said before setting down the dressing and moving to his next dish. “I want to make mealtime matter. Food should be fun, and it should be something you can share with your family in the kitchen or around the table.”
Tom Rice, president of Fisher House’s board of directors, said it will celebrate its second anniversary this month. Nearly 1,000 military men and women have stayed there while recovering from injuries or getting medical treatment.
“The house always smells nice, clean, but when you have someone in the kitchen it no longer smells like a house, it smells like a home,” Rice said. “Cooking is something everyone can share, and we’re grateful Jon could come out.”
Among those getting a taste of Ashton’s cooking was Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Hale, who lost his sight last December when he was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Hale said he learned of the lunch just a few hours beforehand.
“I made a sandwich today,” he said, laughing. “I guess I have lunch for tomorrow now. I had no idea this was going on, but it smells good.”
Hale, a former Navy cook, said he has a passion for cooking and was excited to try Ashton’s dishes and perhaps get a few tips.
“I tend to pick things apart, but this is delicious,” Hale said as he finished his dessert.
Ashton, who has been a chef for 20 years, said moments like Wednesday afternoon are what reminds him that his dreams have come true.
“To come here and do this, it’s a marvelous treat,” Ashton said. “It’s a good treat to do this for Aaron. He can pick up his phone anytime and I’ll cook for him.”
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski