Local chef caters to his clientele

Christina Smith
Chef Don Freeman, 44, executive chef at Barrack’s Cater Inn in Peoria, uses a chisel and ruler to draw lines for the sides and edges of a heart-shaped carving. Freeman said a friend and fellow chef, Jeff Selvig, taught him how to make various ice carvings about four years ago.

After cooking meals for his siblings and Navy midshipmen and women, one Washington resident now works as the head chef for Barrack’s Cater Inn in Peoria.

“When I was growing up, my parents divorced and I started cooking meals for my younger brother and sister because my mom would be at work,” Don Freeman, 44, said.

Freeman said he has worked at Barrack’s for 17 years.

“It’s amazing how much we’ve grown in the time I’ve been here,” Freeman said. “We started out offering cold buffets, and now we offer hot breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets.”

“One of Barrack’s specialty items is our beef brisket, which we smoke for 14 hours and serve with our special barbeque sauce,” Freeman said.

On May 22, Freeman said he, Jim Barrack and another chef went to Chicago to grill hamburgers and brats for 300 Caterpillar Inc. employees participating in the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge.

The 3.5-mile race raises money for Bears Cares Foundation, which is operated by the Chicago Bears.

“I like to grill,” Freeman said. “It’s what my wife, Melanie, lets me do because she doesn’t like to do it.”

Last weekend, Freeman said he and the five chefs who work for him catered nine weddings.

“I usually go to the largest events or the ones that have the most detail involved,” Freeman said.

During the week, Freeman cooks all of the lunches served at the Peoria location, orders food and makes ice sculptures for wedding receptions.

“In our wedding package, we offer a heart or vase-shaped ice carving with cheese, vegetable and fruit trays, and a champagne toast,” Freeman said.

Chef Jeff Selvig, a friend of Freeman’s and the executive chef at the Hotel Pere Marquette in downtown Peoria, taught Freeman how to make an ice sculpture.

“Mr. Barrack originally bought the ice carvings from another chef,” Freeman said.

“Now, I can do a heart in 30 minutes and a vase in about 45 minutes.”

Freeman said Selvig makes each of the 300-pound blocks of ice that he uses for the sculptures.

Most of Freeman’s weekdays start around 6 a.m. when he begins fixing any breakfast meals for the day and writing a prep list for the next day.

An hour or two later, the other chefs come in and start cooking or prepping food for the day.

Freeman said he prepares foods that last longer first and usually fixes any vegetables an hour before the food will be delivered.

A typical day for Freeman ends at 2:45 p.m., unless there is a Peoria Chiefs home game.

Since 2003, Freeman started working part-time from May to August at the Chiefs’ catering office, through Sports Service, which caters food for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bears and the San Diego Padres.

Freeman said he works at most night games from 3:45 to 9 p.m., except on Saturdays because of his schedule at Barrack’s.

“I don’t have to worry about ordering or prepping food and I get to watch a little baseball,” Freeman said.  

Freeman said his wife and  his 16-year-old son, 11-year-old daughter, 4-year-old daughter and his 4-month-old son help him get through the stress of his job.

“I have learned to juggle several parties at once to get the food out on time,” Freeman said.

When he is not working, Freeman said he likes to spend time with his family, attend Cardinals games and go fishing.  

High school and Navy cooking

Freeman, who graduated from Pekin High School in 1982, said he took food service classes his junior and senior year of high school.

“Before I graduated high school, I joined the Navy as a cook,” Freeman said. “Two weeks after I graduated, I went to boot camp at San Diego.”

During the eight years he served in the Navy, Freeman said he traveled to Italy, Spain, Israel, Greece, Turkey, England, Singapore and the Virgin Islands.

“My favorite place I visited is a toss up between Rome and England because I got to see the Vatican and other popular sites in Rome and Big Ben in England,” Freeman said.

Freeman served on both the USS Independence, an aircraft carrier, and the USS Shenandoah, before spending almost three years at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he oversaw the dining hall for all of the midshipmen.

“The longest we were out to sea was three months,” Freeman said. “The guys who were at sea for three months received a picnic on the flight deck and every guy got to have two beers.”

Incoming senior midshipmen, who were going to start their senior year, had the opportunity to take a cruise from the academy to the Great Lakes, Freeman said.

“I flew from Annapolis to Chicago and then took the boat back to Maryland,” Freeman said. “We took the St. Louis Seaway and stopped in Boston, Toronto and Nova Scotia.”

Prior to each stop, Freeman said he had to order food for the midshipmen on all four of the boats and made sure the food was cooked properly.

Freeman said he learned quite a bit from his school and Navy cooking experiences.

“I like catering because it is different every day and you constantly meet new people,” Freeman said.