Chef John Williams wants to bring his experiences to clients all over the region and beyond.
Williams, who serves as executive chef for Meals on Wheels of NEPA in Scranton, has created menus for exclusive resorts and revamped hospital food service systems to include room service and expanded options. He’s lived in Central America and visited the Caribbean several times, and every experience contributes to his cooking and menu planning for Meals on Wheels.
Along with a nutritionist, Williams creates dishes that are low in sodium, and they must keep in mind the specific guidelines for each client. He still has fun, though, like he did when coming up with the recipe for Yucatán Chicken with Cilantro Lime Rice.
The dish — which earned Meals on Wheels of NEPA a gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, through Local Flavor Gives Back — is an homage to all the places Williams has traveled and the food he’s tasted.
“I absolutely love everything about those destinations and their food, and this is my take on them,” Williams said on a recent afternoon in the Meals on Wheels kitchen. “I want (our clients) to try new things. I’m always trying to keep it fresh.”
The juicy chicken had loads of taste, and the sauce held a nice spicy yet tangy flavor.
The team — which includes a kitchen staff of five plus tons of volunteers who pack up and deliver the meals — puts together dishes for elderly people and those with disabilities in the region.
“I could not do anything without this dedicated staff and all of the volunteers,” Williams said.
They also work on services for the nonprofit’s event area, the Space at Olive. Inside the organization’s Wyoming Avenue building in downtown Scranton, the space was renovated to host other local organizations’ events at a low cost, with certain events benefiting Meals on Wheels. Downstairs, the Garage at Olive is an alternative, eclectic event space with a stage, high-top tables and mobile bars.
“It’s the perfect place for bands to play,” Williams said.
In addition to grants, donations and fundraising, the event spaces raise money for the nonprofit. This helps Meals on Wheels continue its mission, executive director Kristen Kosin-Moran said.
“I am incredibly grateful to Chef John, our kitchen staff and all of our volunteers who make, pack and deliver more than 1,000 meals per day that are not only delicious but nutritious and bring warmth and love to our clients,” she said.
Chef John Williams’ Yucatán Chicken with Cilantro Lime Rice
6 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
2 cups water
2 cups Minute Rice
1 large bell pepper, diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 cup diced pineapple
1 cup orange juice
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Heat oven to 350 F.
Place chicken thighs on baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes in oven.
In a medium saucepan, sauté bell pepper in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. When peppers are soft, add garlic and sauté another two minutes. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, pineapple, orange juice, taco seasoning and parsley to pepper mixture to create the Yucatán sauce. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water and add to mixture to thicken it. Simmer an additional 10 minutes and hold to warm.
Cook 2 cups Minute Rice in 2 cups boiling water and lime zest until water absorbs and rice is tender. Add chopped cilantro and fluff with fork.
Place rice on serving platter. Put chicken thighs on rice and spoon Yucatán sauce over chicken and serve.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT