May 14, 2013
Dee Callahan: A homegrown Hatteras Island professional cook
By LYNNE FOSTER
of Hatteras Island’s most talented - and most experienced -
professional cooks never saw or ate fresh broccoli or Brussels sprouts
until she went away to college.
Dee Callahan grew up on island
staples: collards, potatoes rather than rice, canned beans, peas and
corn. “When Dad wasn’t home, we sometimes had spaghetti or
lasagna. Otherwise dinners were plain meat and vegetables.”
the meat? She doesn’t recall ever having a piece of meat, not
even a steak, that included a bone. Canned roast beef or other
tinned meats were standard fare on Hatteras dinner tables.
Interestingly, although seafood was shared in the village, there was
very little fish on her family table since her father didn’t fish.
Her father was Carl Hollis, who worked for the U.S. Weather Bureau in Hatteras village, who married a local woman, Gail Meekins.
were salt and pepper and, of course, salt pork or streak of lean.
There was little use for garlic and herbs and spices were not popular
or easily available.
Callahan claims to have been a “picky”
eater so she usually took her lunch to school rather than eat the
25-cent hot lunch. When she did eat the school lunch,
she remembers spaghetti with homemade light rolls and, on Fridays, fish
sticks or tuna salad.
For many of the village homes the kitchens
were stand-alone buildings near to but detached from the wooden houses
to avoid heating the non air-conditioned living quarters and to also
contain a possible kitchen fire. As a young girl, Dee really
enjoyed cooking and baking in those kitchens. It made her feel
quite the grown up.
A neighbor, Miss Dixie, had one such
kitchen and she allowed Dee and her friend, Amy Gray, to “make cookies
and fudge for the boys” so they spent a lot of time out there!
her early teens, she and Amy started catering small gatherings -
women’s Bible classes and showers and such - and they loved “making
things look pretty” just as much as they liked preparing the food.
this same time, at age 13, she started waiting tables at the Hatteras
Marlin Club under the supervision of the cook, Audrey Meekins.
She learned a lot about food as she watched Miss Audrey in the
kitchen. There were no written recipes and Dee absorbed
techniques and ingredient blends and little tricks that made the food
so delicious and so visually enticing.
That experience must have
aroused artistic instincts for when she went off to college she majored
in commercial art. While in college, she continued to work at the
Marlin Club each summer. She peeled shrimp. She shucked
oysters. She opened clams, and she carefully watched Miss Audrey
and her colleague, Miss Kathleen.
When Miss Audrey retired the
Marlin Club offered the position to Dee and since she “was better at
cooking than painting,” she accepted the job. Her first night in
charge was a little scary but her husband, Darrin Callahan, and her
friend, Patty Robinson, came in to help her, and it was a big
success. There was no going back now.
Dee is still
there and has been the kitchen manager for 20 years. She oversees
the ordering and cooking of the famous Friday and Saturday night feasts
for members and their lucky guests, and she creates multiple
extravagant banquets that include elaborately themed dinners for the
club’s annual Invitational Marlin Tournament every year in June.
Marlin Club is now available for event rental, and Dee’s food “comes
with it” in the sense that she is the only hired caterer who is allowed
to use the facility.
also “comes with” nearly every local wedding or fundraiser. She
is in high demand and admits to finding it difficult to say no to a
village bride. She is a board member with the Hatteras Island
Cancer Foundation and this week will be catering at the Offshore Open
She is often hired for celebration of life services
and remembrance services in rental cottages for people who have come to
Hatteras Island to honor their dearly departed, people who usually had
a special love for this place. This allows her to meet “a lot of
nice people” and “to participate in something that is really personal.”
far, she finds her work on the Hatteras United Methodist Church
Bereavement Committee the most fulfilling. She and a small,
devoted group of women formed the committee last year to address a
growing need in the community.
As old village traditions
gradually fade and as people move here with no generational ties, there
is sometimes nobody to provide the “funeral food” that used to
generously appear at the door of the bereaved to sustain the family and
to feed their visitors over a period of several days.
Bereavement Committee sets up a dining space, usually in the Community
Building or the Church Community Room, and provides buffet meals --
some dishes they themselves have prepared, along with some brought by
volunteers on whom they can call with short notice.
independent catering business is very successful. Dee gets hired
through word of mouth. She never advertises her services nor does
she want her number printed in such articles as these. And “in
her free time” she also cooks with her brother-in-law, Dwight Callahan,
at Dinky’s restaurant on the waterfront at the Village Marina in
There she loves to cook desserts, especially pies, and
she suspects that her interest in sweets may be a result of having
dessert every single night as a child, a treat many of us were denied.
interest in food has become considerably more sophisticated with
experience and she is still open to new horizons. Her experience
with Dwight has proven to be a two-way learning experience.
simply explains. “I am interested in cooking. I am always
changing. I read a lot.” She gets ideas that she is willing
to try because sometimes she thinks she would “rather do this” than
what she has been doing.
She now uses a lot of fresh herbs as
she sees a “marked difference” in the flavors they impart to her
food. She and Darrin, also a great cook, maintain an herb garden
that gets a lot of use in their kitchen at home. Darrin is a
fisherman and hunter and he likes to cook his quarry, so Dee gets to
enjoy delicious food as a result of someone else’s efforts too.
really likes to use different rices and grains, noting the flavor
differences in the varieties. She is also a fan of really nice
One of Dee’s great talents is her ability to let food
speak for itself. There is no affectation, no effort to keep up
with the latest fad, no unnecessary dressing up the dishes.
Freshness and flavor and the beauty of the food itself are her
focus. Dee Callahan makes food we all love to eat. What
better compliment can we give her?
Two examples of Dee’s style
are her roasted red pepper dip and her chilled crabmeat salad.
She recommends them because they are flavorful while still being easy
and quick to prepare.
ROASTED RED PEPPER DIP
2 (14.5 oz.) jars fire roasted peppers
8 ounces cream cheese
6 cloves garlic
3 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
12 whole basil leaves
1/3 cup sliced green onion tops
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. This
is an awesome dip for fresh veggies or on steamed asparagus or grilled
chicken or seafood.
CHILLED CRABMEAT SALAD
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat (picked through for shells)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced red pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
mayo and lemon juice and pepper until smooth. Add celery and
peppers. FOLD in crabmeat, taking care not break up the
lumps. Serve on lettuce as a salad or with crackers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hatteras United Methodist Church Bereavement Committee welcomes your
support either through donations to help purchase needed supplies or
offers to prepare food when asked. If you would like to assist in
this worthwhile effort, please contact the church at 252-986-2149 or
mail a check made out to HUMC Bereavement Committee to PO Box 310,
Hatteras, NC 27943.
For information about the event rentals at The Hatteras Marlin Club, contact Kathy at 252-986-2454.
Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they
operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the
sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the
preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront. Both love
to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment
with recipes for locally caught seafood.)
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