Putting down the kitchen tools

Steve Humphrey, in his "office" at the Pacifica Community Center. Photo courtesy Horace Hinshaw

The Pacifica Community Center is hoping to reopen on Sept. 1 to welcome back more than 800 seniors who patronize the facility as Senior In Action members. The center has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in March 2020.

Throughout the pre-COVID-19 period, the center had been the restaurant of choice for seniors over 60 years of age. With shelter-in-place guidelines, every day, Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., a line of vehicles was seen at the center where a drive-through program enabled seniors to purchase a nutritious lunch. This grab-and-go operation replaced the congregate lunch program for the past year and a half.

“This program has seen an increase from 1,000 average meals per month pre-COVID to 1,700 average meals per month during COVID, for a 70 percent increase,” said Amy Andonian, the city’s recreation manager.

For the last two years the man who has cooked all the meals was chef Steve Humphrey. He is cooking his last meal this Friday. For the last two years, he was primarily responsible for the food/supply processing and menu preparation of approximately 200 meals per day.

While at the center, Humphrey was also closing in on his 46 years of working at Seton Medical Center. He recently retired from Seton and now looks forward to complete retirement.

Humphrey is a lifelong Pacifican. He graduated in 1973 from Terra Nova High School, where he played football and baseball. He and his wife, Lois, raised their three children in Pacifica. He coached youth baseball and soccer for more than 20 years.

It did not take him any time upon arriving at the Community Center for the seniors to fall in love with him. His outgoing personality, his smile, his love of people won over the hearts of the seniors. Plus, they loved his cooking. He brought new recipes with him. His beef stroganoff, which is his favorite dish to cook, got “thumbs-up” from the seniors.

“I’m going to miss everyone,” said Humphrey. “I’m a guy who misses people. I love cooking for all the seniors. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do. I go home and cook. I enjoy watching TV cook shows. I’m always looking to cook something new. Being at the center has been so much fun.”

Humphrey, 66, got his first taste of cooking when he went to work at Seton when he was 19 years old.

“I was attending Skyline College and playing baseball. My parents split up and I was left on my own. I left Skyline. I had to get a job,” said Humphrey. “I got a job at Seton. I was doing different jobs around the kitchen. I didn’t know how to cook. This older cook, Jack, trained me. I came in on my own time with him for two months. I wrote two months of notes on everything he shared with me about being a cook and how to cook different foods.

“I had no clue what I was doing and I probably made a million mistakes along the way, but I knew I was enjoying cooking,” Humphrey said. “I asked Seton if I could take his job when he retired. That day came, and I got his job.

“I think I did everything with food that you can do,” he said, smiling. “I learned by the seat of my pants, but I knew I made the right choice. Working at Seton was very strenuous as there were a lot of different occasions which required food. I’ve never done another job in my life. I met many nice people. Even with the heavy workload, it was hard leaving Seton.

“As I mentioned, I miss people. I was hesitating to apply for the job (at the senior center). But it was close to home. And, since I grew up here, I knew I would know some people,” he added. “I thought I should jump out of my comfort zone and accept the position. I have loved it here. The people are so great. I can identify with so many people here.”

Humphrey said he particularly appreciates the job done by volunteers, such as Meals on Wheels drivers and servers during congregate lunches.

“You miss seeing the seniors,” said Humphrey, who often entertains the Grab & Go clients with his guitar, playing and singing. “These people have completely been a replacement for my friends at Seton. I love these people.”

With his retirement from Seton, Humphrey feels the time is right for him to explore different ventures, saying, “There are things I want to do. I’d like to travel a little. I have brothers living all across the country and a son in Idaho I want to visit. Maybe take a cruise; I always wanted to go on a cruise. I’m going to Yosemite in June.”

As Chef Steve departs, Grab & Go will continue. Starting next week, the center will be working with Trio Community Meals during a transition period as the city of Pacifica interviews individuals for Humphrey’s replacement.

“Trio will drop off hot food in bulk every morning, at which time it will be plated by the kitchen staff. Milk is included. The food/menu meets all the nutritional requirements of the Federal Senior Nutrition Program,” said Andonian, who is familiar with the service, having worked with Trio when she worked at Catholic Charities. “The cost for seniors will remain at the $3 suggested donation.”

Karen Parque, information and referral coordinator for Pacifica Senior Services, has known Humphrey for more than 30 years. Their children went to school and played sports together. He coached Parque’s daughter in soccer.

“Steve is very well liked at the center,” said Parque. “He’s an awesome cook. He has a great personality; he’s always happy. He’s learned all the names of the seniors. They love his cooking.

“We hate to see Steve leave,” added Parque. “He likes people. He will be bored at home. He’s a people person. Maybe we can keep him as a backup cook.”

Linda Blaine, secretary for the Seniors In Action Council, went to high school with Humphrey.

“Linda was the smartest person in class. She was so smart. I was like a copy machine looking at her paper,” quipped Humphrey

“Steve is one of the kindest people I know,” said Blaine. “He is always upbeat and looks at the positive of everything. He is giving to others, and his community. He loves helping others and gives back whenever he can. He always has a smile on his face.”

“Pacifica is an unusual town with all the volunteerism. I’m being paid to cook, and here all these volunteers come in to help get food to our seniors. This is just an amazing town,” remarked Humphrey.

“I wish the Senior Services staff the best going forward,” added Humphrey, “They have a great kitchen staff in Gary (Lopiccolo), Chris (Ballew) and Joe (Jones). I relied on them big time.”

Horace Hinshaw is a longtime Pacifica journalist and sportswriter emeritus for the Tribune.

(1) comment

DEBORAH WONG

Wonderful story, Horace! By coincidence, i created a cartoon about the Senior Lunches that will run on June 9. Had no idea that their chef was retiring , begging the question "Will the menu change?" In any event, best wishes to Steve in his retirement, and many thanks to all who work tirelessly to provide nutritious meals to our city's citizens.

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