For these wounded warriors, a chef-cooked meal is part of the healing process

Army Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Davis, the guest of honor at the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run, expresses his pleasure with a quail dish. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

At the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run, soldiers and their families get a taste of the VIP treatment. The Visiting Chef Program partners with exceptional volunteer restaurant, catering, military, and personal chefs who come to the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run in Haymarket, VA and create once in a lifetime extraordinary meals for our injured warriors and their families.

Source: For these wounded warriors, a chef-cooked meal is part of the healing process

Time to Get a Sous Vide

If you have given even the slightest thought to getting a Sous Vide now is the time. Amazon is running a killer deal for the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator (2nd Gen) WIFI, 900 Watts here. They normally run $199.99 but are $119.00 right now. Pronounced “sue-veed and French for “under seal” it is a cooking technique used by many chefs that is has recently taken hold with home cooks. A Sous Vide is especially useful in taking less expensive cuts of meat and turning them into mouth-watering delights. Wikipedia has an in-depth explanation of Sous Vide if you are new to it. The YouTube channel Sous Vide Everything is an excellent resource.

The Warrior Retreat at Bull Run’s Visiting Chef Program

Warrior Retreat at Bull Run
16013 Waterfall Rd.
Haymarket, VA 20169


The stress of endless medical appointments, medications, and therapy wears on our Wounded Warriors draining almost every ounce of energy from them. Many plan and wait a month or more to come to the retreat for its promise of rest and relaxation. The drive from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to the retreat seems to take forever. In the final miles and as they turn into the driveway and see the retreat for the first-time thoughts of hospitals and therapy fade away.

They have seen the web page, read the brochure, and heard great things about the retreat from their Guest Stay Coordinator, but the best is yet to come. Most do not understand how hard retreat staff and volunteers work to give them the gift of memories of good times and normalcy. Memories of their first massage, their first helicopter ride, their first symphony concert, a professional photo shoot to capture the joy of a stress-free stay at the retreat as a family. One of the most memorable events of their stay is Visiting Chef Night on Sunday. Diner is prepared by world class chefs from around the region who volunteer to come to the retreat and prepare extraordinary meals for the families. Most families describe it as the best food they have eaten.

DSC_0010(L to R) PO2 Sierra Tyler, USN and FS1 Jason T. Rohrs, Coast Guard – Enlisted Aides/Chefs to General Joseph Dunford, the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with retreat Executive Event Chef Ken Gardner, Sous Chef Jim Cole, and a Warrior’s son.

In our mission to make the family’s stay special we created the Visiting Chef Program to introduce families to the restorative properties of fine food. We also believe it offers chefs a way to give back doing the thing they love and that they will quickly learn what many SOWW volunteers know, working with Wounded Warriors and their families is an extraordinarily rewarding experience.


Today we have 49 volunteer chefs from some of the finest restaurants. Besides restaurant and catering chefs, top military chefs have joined the program. They include FS1 Jason T. Rohrs, USCG Chef to General Joseph Dunford, the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CS1 Patrick Parigi, USN Chef to the Commander, Naval Reactors/Propulsion, CSC (SW) Matthew P. Susienka, USN Executive Chef to the Commander Naval Service Training Command, MSgt. Jennifer L Medeiros, USAF Chef to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and MSgt. Sarah L Morgan, USAF Chef to the Air Force Chief of Staff.

The success of the Visiting Chef Program is due to three chefs who contribute selflessly. Volunteer Staff Sous Chef Jim Cole is there assisting the visiting chef almost every Sunday. Volunteer Executive Event Chef Ken Gardner is the Lead Chef on every SOWW event and serves as a back-up Sous Chef. And Chef Benedict Zappone who has prepared meals for Warriors ten times. He comes out on dates where no other chef is available, like Mother’s Day and Christmas Day.


The Visiting Chef Program is much more than exceptional food. For countless families, it is an introduction to farm-to-table cuisine they are not likely to experience on their own. Many cannot afford dining at the chefs’ restaurants. Most of our Warrior guests suffer from PTS and have not been to a restaurant in years. The noise and commotion of a busy restaurant can overwhelm them. The Visiting Chef Program brings that personalized 5-star dining experience to them at the retreat.

My Daddy My Hero Dessert Plate

Many Warriors and family members of all ages don an apron and love the opportunity to help and learn from the chef. The Visiting Chef Program strives to create fond memories that last a lifetime for the families. One of my favorite dinners was for the late Sergeant Scott Adkins who lost his battle with cancer not long after his family stayed at the retreat. The chef taught his daughters how to write with raspberry dessert sauce. I’ll never forget the smile that came to Sergeant Adkins face when his daughter put down his dessert and the plate read “My Daddy My Hero.” It’s not only the families receiving warm memories.

Birthdays at the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run

I have the distinct honor and privilege of volunteering at the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run. The retreat is a 2.5 million dollar 11,000 sq. ft. home on 37 acres in Haymarket, Virginia. We invite wounded Warriors and their families out from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital to spend 5 days out of the hospital and rehab environment.

I am the lead on the Visiting Chef Program. On Sunday night during each guest stay we invite chefs from the area to come out and prepare extraordinary meals for the wounded warrior and their family. Last night was the Warrior’s birthday dinner with 10 friends and family and I thought I would invite some special chefs.


Our Chefs from left to right:

Sierra Tyler, USN Assistant Chef to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Warrior’s son, who learned how to be a Sous Chef
Jason Rohrs, USGC Chef to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Ken Gardner, Executive Event Chef Warrior Retreat at Bull Run
Jim Cole, Resident Sous Chef Warrior Retreat at Bull Run

Chef Rohrs Menu 01222017

Each warrior completes an application to come to the retreat that includes about 20 food questions. Gluten free, allergies, spice tolerance, favorite dishes etc. The answers to the questions go to the Visiting Chef to help them design a 4 course meal.


The Warrior’s son learned what it was like to be a Sous Chef.


Filet Mignon is ready for searing and the oven.


Just about done searing and then into the oven.


There is always prep work.


Chicken Posole cooking.


Tortilla sliced up and crisped in vegetable oil.


Preparing the first course of Chicken Posole Cilantro, Lime, Crema, and Tortilla Crisps


Plating the salad course.


Apple and Brussel Salad Pecans, Shallots, Gorgonzola, and a Champagne Vinaigrette


Here comes the main course.


Filet Mignon Mushroom Lasagna, Parsnip, Green Beans, and Demi-Glace



The birthday cake was created by Brenda Wilks with our amazing Bakers on Call Team. Bakers on Call are more than 30 volunteer home bakers who make sure the Warrior’s favorite fresh baked goods are waiting for them when they arrive for their stay. The Bakers on Call have just started supporting the Visiting Chef Program. Most of our chefs are savory with just basic pastry skills. We looked at increasing the involvement of our Baker’s on Call Team and they are now doing much of the custom dessert work for Visiting Chef Night. The Chef is welcome to make dessert if they like, but most of relieved not doing it.


Everyone had a great time and loved the food.

If you would like to see more pictures from this dinner and other Visiting Chef Night dinners visit our page. If you are a chef and would like to learn more about how you can volunteer and give back please see the Visiting Chef Program web page.

Dizzy Pig Moving Sale

Dizzy Pig BBQ Store
8763 Virginia Meadows Dr.
Manassas, Virginia 20109

As Chris and the crew at Dizzy Pig get ready to move to their new headquarters they are having a big sale. On Saturday January 21st, there’s a storewide 10% off sale. Everything except Thermapens and Smoke Thermometers. It’s a great time to stock up on your favorite seasonings, BBQ accessories, and that new Big Green Egg you didn’t get for Christmas. Chris will be cooking from 11am to 2pm so you can eat while you shop. It doesn’t get much better than that. Wait, Dizzy Pig is a Yeti dealer.


Hunger is Just Around the Corner

Everyone loves the gift of food. Your favorite tea, spice, or jam is always a welcome surprise. This time of year more than any think about giving food to your local food pantry. The problem of food insecurity is nationwide and found in every community. One in seven Americans struggle with hunger affecting children and the elderly the most.


I live in Northern Virginia, a great place that can be described as an affluent community. Prince William County was ranked as the 20th wealthiest county in the county recently. The average median household income was listed as $92,104 in 2014. Yet within 20 miles of me are 2 food banks and 4 food pantries feeding thousands of clients a month. House of Mercy in Gainesville estimates there are nearly 15,000 food insecure children at risk in our county. Elderly notoriously skimp on food because of high living and medication costs.

This time of the year, far removed from the giving season of Christmas, food banks and pantries really need help. Summer is when donations drop to the lowest point. This is truly an out-of-sight out-of-mind problem. Sadly, in this raucous election year we have heard nothing about the 48 million Americans living below the poverty line or the millions of children who go to bed or school each morning hungry. The small faith based food pantry House of Mercy near me provided food assistance to 7,704 people in 2014. Just over half their clients are Hispanic and 86% were women.


It’s easy to get involved. The first step is to call your local food pantry and find out what they need and don’t need. Learn their hours and when you can donate. Many parties are only open a few days a week for distribution to their clients. See if they have drop off points with other area organizations like churches or fire stations. Consider volunteering even if it’s just an hour or two a week. Food banks and pantries are non-profits and operated with mostly volunteers. Contemplate putting together a food drive at your church, school, or work. Ask the manager at your local grocery store if they donate excess food to the local food bank.

Groceries in Cart

Here are tips on donating food.

  • I’m sure you make wonderful cakes, pies, and cookies but food banks can’t take home-baked goods
  • Items past their expiration date you drag out from the back of your pantry will be discarded by the food bank
  • Most food banks will take donations of frozen meats
  • Try to donate low-sodium and low-sugar healthy foods
  • Items with a long shelf life like canned vegetables, rice, and pasta
  • Donate seasonal foods like pumpkin pie ingredients, turkeys, or hams around the holidays
  • Your plastic grocery bags
  • Toilet paper and personal hygiene products
  • Baby food
  • Milk
  • Condiments and cooking spices

What food banks and pantries need most is money. Besides paying staff, rent, and utilities, food pantries often buy items in bulk when they run low. Donating $10 in food may provide enough for 4 meals but  that same $10 pooled with other donations to purchase wholesale can turn into 15 meals.

The best part of donating to a local food bank or pantry is knowing your donation will help someone in your community. Maybe even your neighbor.

Chefs Begin Visiting the Bull Run Warrior Retreat

20151101_171618 copy

A special thanks to Chefs Elena M. Clement, CEPC®, AAC®, owner of The Guiding Knife, CW4 (Ret.) Michael L. Wisler also of The Guiding Knife, and military chefs CSC(SW) Matthew P. Susienka, CEC®, Chef to the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and CS1 Ian Brown, Chef to the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy for being the first chefs to visit the Bull Run Warrior Retreat as part of the Visiting Chef Program.

20151101_151528 copy

The chefs not only created a great menu they also offered instruction to 3 of the wounded warrior’s family members who asked to help make dinner. The chefs prepared an awesome meal from scratch in our new kitchen with the help of the family honorary sous chefs.


Chef Elena had everything running smoothly.

Chef Matt is being transferred to Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago in December. We are so happy he could come to the retreat and prepare a special meal for a wounded warrior and her family before he left. Matt will always be a member of the Serve Our Willing Warriors family and a visiting chef. We can’t wait to have him back some day soon.

Big Green Eggs at the Bull Run Warrior Retreat


Exciting news at the Bull Run Warrior Retreat this week as we received a donation of 2 medium sized Big Green Eggs. Dizzy Pig BBQ put us in contact with Seasonal Firestyles of Waldorf, MD who donated the eggs to the Visiting Chef Program. I know chefs will love grilling and smoking with the Big Green Eggs. Thanks to Tim Jarek at Seasonal Firestyles and Chris and Joellen at Dizzy Pig for making it happen.

The Bull Warrior Retreat

Bull Run Warrior Retreat
16013 Waterfall Rd.
Haymarket, VA 20169


BRWR New Flag Pole 11072014

Several years ago Serve Our Willing Warriors (SOWW) was created to fulfill the vision of its founders John and Shirley Dominick. After years of outreach to wounded warriors at Walter Reed and Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital they decided a more permanent place for wounded warriors and their families to come and relax away from the hospital and rehab environments was needed. A few years ago SOWW acquired and began remodeling an 11,000 sq. ft. 5 bedroom home on 37 acres at the foot of Bull Run Mountain in Haymarket, VA. Through the hard work and dedication of volunteers and the generous heart of a wonderful community the project is near completion. Soon we will invite wounded warriors and their families to stay at the retreat.

I am proud to play a small role at the retreat as the lead on the Visiting Chef Program. I created the Visiting Chef Program as a way to make the stay special for these deserving families. We have nearly 40 restaurant, catering, personal, and military chefs from our area who have agreed to participate in the program. A chef will come to the retreat once during the family’s stay and prepare them an exceptional meal. We have several local food vendors involved with the program and are creating a large chef’s garden.

On July 4th we were joined by over 500 volunteers, donors, and friends for the Bull Run Warrior Retreat ribbon cutting ceremony. Everyone had a great time and was excited to see the house and know that it is nearly finished. I have put together some pictures to show how far we have come and how warm and inviting it will be for the families. Remember that almost everything you see in the photos has been donated, from the building materials and labor to the cabinets, appliances, and furniture.

We still need help outfitting the retreat and making sure the families have everything needed for their stay. To help the community make donations we have a Bed Bath & Beyond Registry to identify kitchen and home items we still need.

Full House Exterior

20150705_145612 copy

20150705_145738 copy

20150705_145647 copy

Wheelchair access to the house is by ramp to the front door or there is a chair lift in the garage for inclement weather.

20150705_150133 copy 20150705_145806 copy

From the front deck you can see the service flags and the children’s play area. Both were part of the many Eagle Scout projects on property.

20150705_145839 copy

20150705_145900 copy

Girl Scouts created this beautiful serenity garden.

20150705_145940 copy

Also near the front of the house is this BBQ area built as an Eagle Scout project.

Front Deck

The front deck.

20150705_150120 copy

The main entrance to the house.

Kitchen July 2014

The kitchen about a year ago.

20150705_140015 copy

20150705_140111 copy

20150705_144955 copy

20150705_144837 copy

The kitchen today has a 48 inch 6 burner gas stove with 2 electric ovens, 2 French door refrigerators, 2 dishwashers, a wall oven, wine cooler, microwave, and 2 sinks. The kitchen appliances are all GE Monogram and part of a package of 17 appliances donated by builder K. Hovnanian Homes. The cabinets were donated by Signature Woodcrafters in Haymarket.

20150705_140238 copy

20150705_140256 copy

The main dining room.

Rear Living Room

Rear Living Room 2

The rear living room.

20150705_135552 copy

20150705_135600 copy

The front living room.


2nd bedroom

Roll in Shower


The main floor has 3 large bedrooms with wheelchair accessible bathrooms and showers.

20150705_141811 copy

The upper floor, accessible by elevator, has 2 bedrooms with standard baths for family and children. At the top of the stairs is this comfortable seating area overlooking Bull Run Mountain.

20150705_140746 copy

At the base of the stairs on the lower level is the library and memorabilia area.

20150705_140800 copy

Directly behind the library is the children’s play area.

20150705_140810 copy

 20150705_140834 copy

20150705_140858 copy

The entertainment room will feature a pool table and large screen TV.

20150705_141207 copy

20150705_141217 copy

The exercise room is also on the lower level and has a full bath with roll in shower.

20150705_141230 copy

Just off the exercise area is a room with massage tables.

20150705_145134 copy

20150705_145107 copy

20150705_145037 copy

The caretaker’s quarters includes a kitchen/living room area, bedroom and office.


The caretaker’s quarters has it’s own small deck. We enclosed the back garage to make it the volunteer office and conference room.



The rear deck is accessible from the dinning room and through French doors in the main entryway hall to allow for wheelchair access.

20150705_141109 copy

Leading out from the children’s play area on the lower level is the patio with a burn pit.


The chef’s garden was an Eagle Scout project that will help us take a farm-to-table approach to food at the retreat. Not only for the chefs but we will encourage the families to draw from the garden as they prepare their own meals.