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December 2, 2013

Soup kitchen chef

Kitchen star gives up glamorous life to become Salvation Army chef

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jeff Ansorge once commanded a staff of 17 and made around $80,000 a year as executive chef at a posh downtown Minneapolis restaurant where a 24-ounce dry aged Porterhouse steak goes for $48. But he gave it all up to become the head cook of a Salvation Army soup kitchen, where the meals are free.

Now he brings his culinary skills to bear making salmon, ribs and stews for the poor and homeless who come to The Salvation Army Eastside Corps Community Center in St. Paul. For the Thanksgiving meal he served Wednesday, Ansorge planned a traditional feast of turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and rolls, served on tables covered with white tablecloths.

"It is not your old-fashioned soup kitchen where you get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread and (are) sent on your way. He makes phenomenal meals that you would pay quite a bit of money to go to a restaurant and have," Salvation Army Capt. John Joyner said of Ansorge, who left The Capital Grille to run the soup kitchen.

The clients agree.

"This is outstanding. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give him an 8-and-a-half, yep," Donnie Richardson, 55, a homeless man from St. Paul, said over a meal of chicken thighs, rice and mixed vegetables in the center's white-walled gymnasium.

Ansorge, 40, says a spiritual awakening led him to his new job at the soup kitchen in October 2012, making just one-third of his previous salary.

"I went through a divorce. I was suffering from major depression for four years. And my priorities were all wrong," Ansorge recalled while standing near the center's pantry shelves. "I wanted the high-paying job. I wanted the big house. I wanted the cars. I wanted all that. And ultimately, none of that satisfied me."

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