WICKER PARK — While the restaurant industry is known for high turnover and chef shuffles, StreetWise magazine vendor Scott Elders has been cooking highly sought-after meals at a Wicker Park homeless shelter for seven years.
After spending his morning peddling magazines in front of a Starbucks at 1588 N. Milwaukee Ave. on a recent Tuesday, Elders walked a few blocks east to begin preparing dinner for the dozens of folks who would turn out that night at the Franciscan Outreach Association's Marquard Center Kitchen.
Standing in the center's courtyard, Elders brushed barbecue sauce over donated pre-seasoned pork ribs.
Elders patiently cooked the ribs over a small charcoal grill. About 100 ribs were later reheated and served to diners who packed the center's dining room at 1645 W. Lemoyne St.
Brother Doug Collins, who oversees the volunteer-staffed kitchen, said that if Elders were not cooking on Tuesday, the pork ribs would have been baked and not brushed with barbecue sauce and grilled.
The care Elders puts into his cooking makes a difference in terms of turnout at the kitchen, where the free meals attract 70 to 120 diners.
On the two weeknights when Elders cooks — Tuesdays and Thursdays — Collins said there is up to a 20 percent increase in people visiting the kitchen, which is open from 5 to 6:30 p.m. daily for dinner year-round and for lunch on Mondays and Fridays.
"He has been a wonderful asset. He puts a lot of love into his cooking," Collins said.
While Elders considers the job to be mostly volunteer, he said the center pays him a stipend of $50 weekly since he is such a constant fixture there. He's eaten at the kitchen over the years, including when he was homeless before finding an apartment in River West.
Elders discussed his chef gig in the Oct. 17 issue of StreetWise, which often features the vendors who sell the magazines across the city for $2 per copy and receive $1.10 from each sale.
"I grill chicken, hot dogs, brats, whatever they want me to cook up. I don't know of any soup kitchens that do grilling, or fried chicken or make their own catfish. If we've got it, I'll cook it," Elders said in the print edition.
Margaret Curtain, a West Town resident, had just finished eating at the kitchen on Tuesday and praised Elders' meal, which was complemented by salad, vegetables and bread prepared by the center's full-time volunteers who live on-site for a year as part of a service fellowship.
"I've been coming here on and off since 2007. [Elders] cooks with spices and seasonings and tries to make the food taste better. You know when he has cooked" compared to other nights, Curtain said.
When asked why he has continued to cook for the shelter so regularly and for so long, Elders said he likes the fact he can prepare "better food" than what the people who visit the kitchen would usually be served.
"The good Lord wants us to give to people what you can, and I'm giving the best that I can," Elders said.
Three containers of charcoal-grilled pork chops ready for serving. [Photos by DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Streetwise vendor Scott Elders in Wicker Park.
Margaret Curtain said she enjoys Elders' cooking.
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