LITTLE COMPTON — For the 16 Little Compton Community Center guests, most of them well over 60 years old, lunch was a high-end affair Monday.
The tone of the occasion was set by Marie O’Loughlin Jenkins, coordinator of the center’s Senior Luncheon Program.
“Bon appetit everybody,” she proclaimed.
Then, direct from Chef Matthew Prior in the kitchen came bowls of home-made tomato-basil soup, followed by plates of roast chicken, green beans, and rice pilaf. The dessert was apple bread pudding. Carrying the gourmet bounty was volunteer server Lillian Quinn, 90, and an assistant.
“It’s nice being with people, and it’s something to do,” said Ms. Quinn as she served her tables. “It’s satisfying to help out in some way. I enjoy it.”
For the last six Mondays since the end of January, the LCCC’s “Senior Luncheon Program” has featured the professional cooking of Matthew Prior, a LIttle Compton resident who is also a banquet chef at the New York Yacht Club in Newport. He has been concocting an array of dishes for the program on Mondays and will do so until the second week of May, and thereafter during the summer on the first Monday of every month.
In addition to Mr. Prior on Mondays, the LCCC has lined up a group of volunteers for the other days of its thrice weekly 11:30 a.m. senior luncheon program.
On Wednesdays the chefs will be drawn from a group that includes Wilbur’s Store, Lea Angell, Rhea Brooks, Rob and Mary Marra, Cathy Redding, Gail Robinson, Galen Snow, and Marion Morrison. On Fridays, Kathy Lambert is the guest volunteer.
“We want it to be a program for people who are disabled and over 50,” said LCCC Director Gina Malloy. “We’re trying to create a program that provides healthy food and a social environment.”
“Some of the finest cooks in Little Compton are volunteering their time to prepare delicious meals,” she said. The LCCC calls it a major upgrade of its luncheon program for seniors.
“The food is a lot better than it used to be, and you can’t beat the price,” said William Carter, 87.
Meals are a “suggested donation” of $3 for seniors, $6 if they are under 50, said Ms. Malloy. A donation box is positioned on a table at the entrance to the dining area where the tables are set up.
The event is popular, and appreciated.
“I like the comraderie with friends. They are wonderful friends to chat with.” said Florence Lolihle, 90. The quality of the food also gets notice. “I liked the southwestern chicken chili the other day, and the spaghetti and meatballs were out of this world.”
Dot Shea, 70, who has been coming for a couple of months, said the southwestern chili is her favorite dish, which another guest at her table said had been made by Rhea Brooks.
Joyce Helger, 76, said “I just started coming, but the recipes look good.”
James Holliday, 78, said “the pulled pork is very good too.”
At another table, Pete Jenkins, 53, said, “I love it. I eat everything. I’m half Indian (Mohawk). My favorite is pretty much everything.”
Chef. Prior’s father, Greg Prior, was the minister at St. Andrews By-The-Sea Episcopal Church, and he and his wife Jennifer live on Indian Rock Acres.
“I was looking for some volunteer work because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. He heard that LCCC was looking for volunteers and offered to help. “They asked me what I did for a living, and I said I cook.” That’s how things got started. “I’ve really cooked all my life” beginning in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, “where I started flipping hamburgers.”
He earned a degree in history from Lander University in South Carolina, but went into cooking. “My Dad told me and my sisters (he has three) to do what we love to do, and then figure out a way to get paid for it.” He’s been cooking for a living now for about 20 years.
He moved to Little Compton in 2004, and says, “I am an extremely passionate surfer. I sleep, eat, and dream surfing, and travel as often as I can. Little Compton for me is the best surfing spot on the east coast. A lot better than South Carolina.”
What he likes most about being a chef at the LCC, he said, is “it’s fun. There’s a nice sense of community there. Generally, the same people come every week.”
So far, he said, he’s gone through his rotation of dishes at the LCCC, which includes spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, and shrimp gumbo.
At the end of lunch on Monday, all 16 guests at the LCCC tables signed a thank you note that they delivered to Mr. Prior in the kitchen.