Open Table's chef preps for citizenship

A galley chef with a big heart goes for his citizenship

Paul Clark

You’d hardly call Paul and Anne Drummond’s marriage a marriage of convenience. It’s not like they got married so that Paul, a native of England, could get his green card.

But the last days of December conveniently fall around some key dates in the Black Mountain family’s life. On Dec. 28, the Drummonds celebrate their 25th anniversary. And on Dec. 29, Paul goes to Charlotte to take the examination to determine whether he can become a U.S. citizen.

And everyone at the Open Table will be pulling for him.

Paul Drummond jokes around with other volunteers at the Open Table on Nov. 30.

Paul Drummond, 62, is the chef behind the hot, nourishing dishes the Open Table provides to any and all comers to the Black Mountain United Methodist Church, where the meal is provided each week from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall. He’s been the cook there since the Open Table started a little over a year ago. With a cheerful smile and a lilting British accent, he knows many of the regulars by name. His fellow volunteers adore him as much as he adores him.

“I remember we used to have a lovely young woman that volunteered there,” fellow Open Table volunteer Roberta Madden said. “She was working in the kitchen and she saw Paul wiping up a spill with a cloth and she said, ‘can I marry you? You don’t see a man to do that too often.’ Everybody in the kitchen was laughing their heads off.”

Drummond is “so funny, always in a good humor, joking,” Madden said. “He has a habit of going around to talk to the guests that are there. He gets to the kitchen early and stays to the end. He’s sort of a remarkable guy. He doesn’t have to do any of this. But he’s there every week. I don’t think we could have pulled off the Open Table without him.

“The U.S. would be very lucky to have him. He’s the kind of citizen we need.”

Drummond will apply for naturalization Dec. 29 in part by answering questions about his knowledge of U.S. government and history. Among the easier questions he might be asked are the dates of significant American holidays. One harder one might be the name of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights).

Drummond will be asked up to 10 questions, and he has to get six of them right, an easy enough thing for someone who has lived in the United States for 17 years, he said. He had to demonstrate that he can ready, write and speak English.

Drummond has developed “a greater awareness of our history and our Constitution than most native-born Americans,” said Dave Wells, who volunteers with his wife at the Open Table. “We won't need to worry that he'll make the effort to vote when he gets the opportunity.”

“He’s very outspoken,” fellow volunteer Joan Brown said. “He’ll tell you what he thinks in a heartbeat. During the political campaign, we talked politics a lot on Wednesdays. He is very politically motivated and informed. I think he’ll make a darn good citizen for the United States.”

Paul and Anne Drummond met in Miami. Paul was serving in the Royal Navy and was on a ship assigned to escort Queen Elizabeth from Miami to Tampa. Anne, now 59, was living on Harbor Island, near Tampa. After they got married, they moved to Newton – fairly near Montreat, where Ann’s Presbyterian missionary parents had retired – so that Anne could travel for her job in medical records information technology. Five years ago, the family moved to Black Mountain to be near her mother, living then at Highland Farms.

Father of four, Paul has been a house husband, a job that uses skills he developed in the Royal Navy. As a supply logistician, he’d had to figure out how many nuts and bolts, guns and bullets a ship needed to accomplish its mission. One of his onboard assignments was assistant to the caterer, the person who made sure there was enough food for the job. Drummond was in and out of the galley a lot, watching the caterer plan and organize meals. If the crew was down a man, Paul would pitch in.

“I just got used to cooking for a couple hundred people,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s easy.”

“I think he has a hard time cooking for just a couple,” Anne said.

“What’s the difference between 40 pounds of ground beef and one pound?” he said. “You just use a bigger pot.”

Nearly two years ago when the Open Table was getting organized, Paul attended one of the meetings. No one had the volume cooking experience he did, so he volunteered to man the kitchen. He and the Rev. John Brown, a retired Methodist minister, would shop every week at MANNA FoodBank, a food aggregator that supplies other missions with food for clients.

Paul Drummond hangs out in the kitchen at Black Mountain United Methodist Church after talking to retired minister John Brown, right.

Most of what Drummond cooks for the dozens of diners at Open Table (there were about 100 there for the Thanksgiving meal) could be described as comfort food, like barbecue chicken. Madden said he makes the best meatloaf she’s ever had. She notes that he occasionally throws in a British dish like bangers and mash or Scotch eggs. She remembers the time he made Shepherd’s pie from ground lamb and mashed potatoes.

“Everyone really liked it,” she said, “even if they didn’t know what it was.”

Drummond loves volunteering at the Open Table, not only because he loves to cook, but also because he loves what the Open Table is all about – “the people,” he said. “They’re family. They’re fabulous.” He likes that everyone comes together there, whether they’re homeless or looking for company.

He describes the Open Table as the sort of melting pot that many have maintained the United States is, or should be. In Charlotte on Dec. 29, he’ll be surrounded by people from all over the world who want to become a part of that melting pot.

Naturalization will mean he has new rights, “like getting my driver’s license approved for eight years and not having to get my card renewed every 10 years,” he said. “It will be nice to vote.” He’ll be eligible for Medicare and spousal Social Security.

“I’m glad he’s finally doing this,” Madden said. His attaining citizenship Dec. 29 is “a great occasion. What a great way to start the new year.”