2nd of Jul | Story

Soul food


MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina | As most good food does, the mesquite barbecue chicken that Ricky Andrews grills six dozen nights a year has a secret. Not many folks who dine on the suite level at TicketReturn.com Field ask about it, or even know to ask about it. If they did, they would know why they’re eating barbecue chicken without napkins or wipes.

There’s no sauce.

“It’s not messy,” Andrews says. The chicken is upscale food designed to be eaten at a ballpark, grilled in a rub of cumin, paprika, black pepper, Spanish pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, “to get that smoky flavor.”

Now 51 years old, Andrews has worked for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for more than half a decade. He started as a cook in the grill behind third base before he received a promotion to executive chef. He went from flipping hot dogs and burgers to creating a menu that includes filet mignon, shrimp, wraps and that barbecue chicken.

“I like to see people eat and come back and say, ‘It’s great. You did a wonderful job.’ That’s really my payoff.” — Pelicans executive chef Ricky Andrews

“It’s not too glamorous of food because it’s a ballpark and it’s not a Triple-A stadium,” he says. “If I was working somewhere in New York, it would be different.”


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Andrews did work in New York once. He was trained at the premier Culinary Institute of America, whose list of alums includes celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain, Todd English and Michael Symon. He proudly says he graduated with high honors and that his teachers tried to hire him after graduation, but he had already promised several years of work to the nursing home that paid for his schooling. How could he turn his back on a promise? The people at Brandywine Nursing Home in Westchester County were among the first who recognized his potential in the kitchen and pushed him to pursue it.

For as long as Andrews can remember, he has been messing around and creating in the kitchen. His mother was a cook at a golf course in South Carolina, where he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. “Just being around her, I always had the desire to want to cook, the passion to want to cook,” he says. “I like to see people eat and come back and say, ‘It’s great. You did a wonderful job.’ That’s really my payoff.”

His earliest kitchen memory came when he was 12, almost four decades ago. His grandmother asked him to cook rice while she ran to the store. He boiled water and threw rice in a pot until it burned. He tried again and again and again and again until, finally, the consistency was right.

“I became homeless for over three years, and I was literally eating out of garbage cans and going from shelter to shelter. — Andrews

Eventually, he mastered cooking rice, of course. He went on to work as a chef at the nursing home, then several restaurants, then as an employee of Aramark, for Bank of New York and Chase Manhattan Bank, where he fed thousands of people every day. He had an opportunity to cook and to teach both temps and convicts about culinary and life skills.

Andrews had reached a new level of professional and personal satisfaction.

“I knew where they came from, so I was willing to help,” he says of his temps who came from local prisons. “I helped some. Some just didn’t want to listen.”

There was so much promise. A culinary degree, a good job, fulfillment. A handful of bad decisions, though, led to addiction and years on the streets. “I became homeless for over three years, and I was literally eating out of garbage cans and going from shelter to shelter,” he says.

Andrews doesn’t talk much about the details of those bad decisions, but he talks openly and often about everything after them. Stories about those years he spent aching with hunger, of washing in public restrooms, of searching for a warm place to sleep roll right out. His reasoning for the calm, soft-spoken description is his faith in God, nothing else. That faith formed when he was still on the streets.

“One day I was at Grand Central Station,” he says. “I got myself clean, I came outside, I didn’t have no money. I sat down on the sidewalk and it was cold that day, extremely cold. I said to myself, ‘I’m tired of living like this.’ I heard a voice within myself say to me, ‘Are you ready to give up now?’ I looked around, there was nobody. In my conscious, I knew that it had to be him.”

Andrews’ voice peaks with emotion. That day sitting on the sidewalk was one of the most joyous of his life.

“I said, ‘Yes,’” he says. “He said, ‘Around the corner will be coming a lady with a brown trench coat on. Ask that lady for some money.’”

She appeared and he asked her for money. She reached in her pocket and gave him five dollars.

“I went and got something to eat,” he says. “I had 25 cents left. The Lord told me to call my cousin, Kathy Walker.”

He hadn’t seen her in a more than a decade, but he found a pay phone, opened the phonebook and scrolled through the list of names. “There must have been 600 Kathy Walkers,” he says. “I didn’t know her address. I said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to pick a Kathy Walker.’ I put a quarter in there and I dialed the number, and this is no joke, man, that was my cousin.”

His family had been looking for him for years. They thought he was dead. He told his cousin to call his dad and give him the pay phone number. His dad called and told his son to take a cab to his house.

“I said, ‘Dad, I don’t think you realize how I look. I don’t think a cab driver will take me,’” he says. “He said, ‘Rick, just try it.’ I talked to a couple cab drivers and finally one said, ‘I trust you.’ He took me to my dad’s house. I lived with my dad for a few years.

“That is when I got saved.”

After years of nothing — no apartment, no stuff, no relationships, no self-respect, just the clothes on his back — Andrews was complete. He says he never needed rehab and never relapsed. He had his faith.

Andrews married not long after that. He worked at banks and started his own catering company. Then he retired so he and his wife, Rene’e, could focus on starting a family. Every few years they visited South Carolina, his roots, until a trip a few years back when they decided to stay.

“The Lord really pulled my heart to come down here,” Andrews says. “I told my wife and she agreed. We sold everything in New York and came to live down here. We’ve been blessed ever since.”

“The Lord really pulled my heart to come down here. I told my wife and she agreed. We sold everything in New York and came to live down here. We’ve been blessed ever since.” — Andrews

Between working for the Pelicans and raising four girls between 12 and 6 years old, Andrews and his wife are pastors at New Generation, a congregation of close to 50 people that meets at their home every week. They’ve never asked for money from their parishioners, which is why they’ve never relocated to an outside building. Since starting New Generation six years ago, the Andrews have birthed five churches, three in Atlanta and two in New York. One of their missions is to help the homeless.

“The most important thing about church and religion is the realness of it and living your life like that,” he says. “When people know how you live and you tell them where you came from, that gives them a different perspective of how church should be.”


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Three hours before the Pelicans open the gates, Andrews is in the kitchen beyond first base, rolling bog balls — chicken, kielbasa, Italian sausage, bacon, onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper, all packed into a sphere a little smaller than a standard baseball — that he’ll fry brown.

“This is one of my favorite jobs here,” Andrews says. Before games, during afternoon prep, he wears a black T-shirt and shorts. He switches to his white chef jacket and checkered pants during games. He has to look the part. “I’m able to mingle with people from all over. It’s been a good experience.”

Andrews enjoys returning to the Pelicans every season. He takes the job so seriously that not even tongue cancer, the removal of lymph nodes and salivary glands, chemotherapy and radiation — all of which he endured during the season — didn’t keep him from work. “I knew that if I rested, I would start thinking about it and wouldn’t want to come to work,” he says. “I found out that your attitude with cancer is the best medicine.”

Andrews has adapted to being an executive chef with only 85 percent of his taste buds. He was also recently named the head cook for a public elementary school, where he hopes to bring nutrition to the forefront. He’ll only plan to slow down when it’s God’s will.

“It was hard at times, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “But sticking to the church and sticking with my passion for food, life became great.”

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 

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