What’s cooking?

Veteran Thomas Catoire pours maple syrup over the French toast served by the VFW Men’s Auxiliary at the group’s monthly fundraising breakfast. Kathy Reed photo

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7392 is cooking up all kinds of new ways to help raise awareness of the organization, raise money for its many programs and raise its membership.

And when we say cooking, we mean that quite literally.

“Food? We have the facility to do it, so why not?” said Thomas Catoire, president of the VFW Men’s Auxiliary, which serves up a buffet breakfast from 10 a.m. to noon the second Sunday of every month.

For $6.50 diners will get a plate loaded with bacon, sausage, French toast, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, toast, coffee and juice. Proceeds from the second Sunday breakfast benefit the Men’s Auxiliary.

Attendance varies widely from week to week, although Catoire has a good-natured theory on that.

“It seems like every second Sunday is a holiday — Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veterans Day,” he said.

Catoire, who grew up in Louisiana and spent 12 years in the Navy, is also putting his other culinary skills to good use. He’s begun a Men’s Auxiliary Cajun Night from 5 to 8 p.m. every other Wednesday.

“I’ve been cooking since I was 5,” he said. “People in San Francisco think a blackened steak is a burned steak. A lot of people like the Cajun food restaurants serve, but that’s not authentic.”

Thomas Catoire serves up a dish of Shrimp Etouffe during a recent cajun night fundraiser at the Oak Harbor VFW. Kathy Reed photo

A recent Wednesday evening found Catoire stirring a giant kettle of Shrimp Étouffée, a tasty mixture of shrimp, garlic and vegetables in a not-too-spicy sauce served over a bed of rice and accompanied by garlic bread. Other Cajun night meals have included jambalaya and chicken and sausage gumbo.

“I don’t make it too spicy. I let people add their own spice,” Catoire said. “I love to cook. I like seeing people come in and eat.”

Post 7392, despite the fact it is one of a few VFWs in Washington with a canteen, sells more food than anything else, according to canteen manager Kevin Collins, who took over as manager about a year ago.

“We’ve made great strides. Food outsells everything, even beer,” he said as he prepared King Salmon slices with a white wine marinade.

Collins has several years of experience in the restaurant industry and says he’s got a “knack” for it. Although not a veteran himself, he was very interested in working with the VFW.

“Because of what it stands for and what they do,” he said.

And the VFW is not just for members. Invited guests are always welcome and the post holds several functions throughout the year for members of the public. Most recently, the post was full of senior citizens, who came to the post’s annual Senior Christmas Party, which included a buffet lunch of ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, salad and dessert, plus a visit from Santa, who passed out hugs, kisses and gifts, with the help of his trusty elf, Sugar Plum.

Post members recently remodeled part of the facility, which is available for group parties, dinners and meetings. Full service catering is also available. The Post hosted its first squadron holiday party in December, which earned rave reviews, Collins said.

“We’ve raised the bar,” said Collins. “We’ve brought gourmet food to a VFW-priced venue.”

Price is another thing that Catoire feels appeals to a lot of people these days.

“Military people don’t have as much money as some people think,” he said. “We try to make it where it’s inexpensive.

“That’s why a lot of people are joining the club,” he continued with a laugh. “It’s a lot cheaper on the pocket.”

The VFW serves dinner every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, but there is a canteen menu patrons can order from seven days a week.

“You can get a six-ounce steak and fries for $7,” said Collins. “Nobody else is crazy enough to do that.”

Bottom line, Collins thinks business is growing because people are learning the VFW’s secret.

“The secret is outstanding food,” he said. “The food has to be spectacular.”

What’s cooking at the VFW?

2nd Sunday of each month, 10 a.m.-noon
Last Sunday of each month, 10 a.m.-noon

Cajun night every other Wednesday 5-8 p.m.
Dinner specials every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5-8 p.m.

The VFW is located at 3037 N. Goldie Road, Oak Harbor. Call 360-675-4048 or go to www.vfwpost7392.org for information.