Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Jail food wins reprieve

Only complaint now is inmates can't get enough

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The kitchen smells great. Homemade vegetable beef soup bubbles in a pot. Fresh oatmeal raisin cookies fill a big tin.

        A really big tin. And the soup pot holds 40 gallons. This is the kitchen in the Kenton County Jail, where inmates put together 1,000 meals every day.

        That part's not unusual for the kitchen of an admittedly crowded jail. What's different here is the reception the food cart gets these days when it comes around to each cell. Complaints are down. Even Jailer Terry Carl, who refused to eat the food when he took over in January, is a regular customer now.

        “We care about how we fix it,” said Sgt. Larry Par shall, a deputy whose interest in cooking led to his new kitchen assignment. “If I can't eat it, I'm not going to serve it to them.”

        Mr. Carl had talked about hiring a professional cook, but found what he needed in Sgt. Parshall. The new kitchen boss started off with new contracts for food, bread and milk. The bread contract brings in fresh bread, instead of day-old, and at a lower price. Sgt. Parshall says he's reduced the weekly food budget from $7,000 to about $4,500, and he hopes to cut it even more.

        Another change is spices. Inmates complained that everything used to taste bland. Now a shelf holds jugs of rubbed sage, chili powder and ground nutmeg — little additions, the sergeant says, that make a big difference.

        He also added night bakers. One deputy and two inmates work through the night making cinnamon rolls, cookies, cherry cobbler. And, believe it or not, fresh bread some days.

        Tuesday's menu started with cereal and toast. For lunch: country-fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes made with real butter and milk, peas and homemade cookies. Dinner: Soup, ham salad sandwiches and fruit.

        The inmates notice the difference. Their most common complaint — they want more of it.

        Jeffrey Gabbard of Price Hill, in the jail since October, waited in his isolation cell for his tray.

        “There's nothing wrong with this food,” he said.

        “Oh, it's a lot better,” said Tommy Arnold of Covington. “Ten times better. I used to not eat it.”


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