It’s become an annual November tradition: Tajahi Cooke, known as Chef Taj, and his team cook thousands of meals to deliver to people in need. He calls it “Madsgiving”—since there’s a little madness in undertaking such a project—and this year was the biggest yet as they prepared 10,000 hot Thanksgiving Day meals at the culinary facilities on the Mosaic Community Campus, which formerly housed Johnson & Wales University. Chef Taj and his wife Danielle—who are co-owners of Ms. Betty’s Cooking—work with their company’s chef Brian Jimenez along with numerous volunteers and community partners to provide the meals.
The concept for Madsgiving began four years ago when Chef Taj and his wife made too much food for Thanksgiving. “We used to cook three to four turkeys because I want crispy skin and I wasn’t happy with the way the turkey came out. That’s the honest truth behind it,” says Chef Taj. “We ended up providing meals for our neighbors and taking them down to homeless shelters on Larimer, and it got to the point that I looked at my wife and said, ‘we can do more,’ and we wanted to try.”
At the time, Chef Taj was the Executive Chef at Mother Tongue, a restaurant in the now-closed Broadway Market food hall. He got approval from the Market owners to use the location after hours to prepare meals, serving 515 Thanksgiving dinners that year. Since then the number of meals has grown each year, and the dinners have become available to individuals in need and organizations throughout Colorado.
Madsgiving is made possible through a combination of community support, charitable donations, a GoFundMe account, and the work of at least 200 volunteers. Money also comes from proceeds of curry powder sales through the Ms. Betty’s Grandson website.
Those enjoying Madsgiving this year got a meal that included roasted turkey, chicken or shredded pork, paired with mac and cheese, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a slice of pie.
The formal name of the event, Madsgiving Harvest, is homage to the ingredients used. “It’s the farms that play a vital role in helping us pull this off,” explains Chef Taj. “We primarily work with Miller Farms in Platteville, having met them back when we started this madness and were trying to feed 500 people. They’ve helped us provide more than 20,000 meals in the last few years plus 10,000 this year.”
Beginning the Monday before Thanksgiving, Chef Taj and his team cooked the turkey, chicken, and pork. Then, on Wednesday night the team took over two Denver food halls, Avanti Food & Beverage and Zeppelin Station. From 10pm to midnight, they started prepping and cooking the side dishes and soups, cooking through the night. Complete meals were boxed up and delivered everywhere they needed to go by 2pm on Thanksgiving Day.
“A lot of these individuals haven’t eaten well all year, and if we can give them a meal to really remember, that’s when we know we did a good job,” says Chef Taj. “That’s where my crazy comes into play because I’m just trying to put that big of a smile on their face. Fortunately, I surround myself with people who are just as crazy.”
Chef Taj says someone recently suggested he cap how many meals he provides, concerned that the growing numbers could become a problem. “But for me, I don’t mind it becoming a problem because we need to do something,” says Chef Taj. “I won’t feel right eating my Thanksgiving meal if I know I could have done more.”
To learn more or to get involved, visit Msbettysgrandson.com.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch