The smell of cooked turkeys filled the air in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood Thursday, but the aroma symbolic of Thanksgiving came not from home kitchens but from a tent at the Connecticut Avenue location of Medium Rare.
“The magic of a day like today is, everyone comes together, no one’s phones are ringing, and everyone from all walks of life are hanging out talking to each other, waiting,” said chef Mark Bucher, co-founder of the restaurant.
This is the 14th year that Bucher has held the event. He started it small and at a time when the nation was on a kick for deep fried birds, out of a desire to help people safely fry their turkeys. The first year, he said, a family that lived in a nearby shelter left him a note thanking him for cooking the turkey donated to them, because otherwise they wouldn’t have had a way to prepare it.
That note, he said, motivated him to keep the event going and to grow it over the years.
Bucher said while the event is open for anyone who would like to have their turkey fried, the majority of those who stop by are in the same situation as the family that left the note: They had had turkeys donated to them during food drives, but have no way to cook the star of the meal.
This year, supply shortages had all families concerned about being able to find turkeys, but Bucher said he knows many families have that concern about daily meals.
“That’s their first time facing of food insecurity — ‘What am I going to do for Thanksgiving?’ These folks here face it every day,” Bucher said.
The turkey cook lasted for five hours, but Bucher said it took months of preparation, which included renting eight deep fryers, getting all the oil needed for them and, of course, organizing enough staff to keep the assembly line moving.
“We probably have 30 Medium Rare staff members here that give up their Thanksgiving to make sure that everyone’s safe,” Bucher said.
His family also helped cook the birds, as did other volunteers from the community.
Among those taking advantage of the free deep frying was Erica Phelps, of D.C.
“Sometimes we struggle with frying them, and it can be kind of messy and dangerous, so I am pretty happy they’re helping out,” Phelps said.
Jeremy Mayo-Johnson said his family is coming over for the big day, and he admitted he was too lazy to cook the bird himself.
“This is a great thing they’re doing,” Mayo-Johnson said.
Ressuan Diggs, of the District, said she prefers deep fried turkeys to the traditional oven-baked version because they’re juicier and moister. She said that without the ability to deep fry one at home, the restaurant made her Thanksgiving by helping her make the bird, the way she likes it.
“Taking time out to do something for other people, and then for free — that’s just a really good thing,” Diggs said.
Bucher said with a smile that, while the day of cooking turkeys is rewarding, he won’t be having turkey for dinner when his family gathers for Thanksgiving.
“It takes me 364 days to forget the smell of fried turkey, to want to do it again,” Bucher said.