- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - It’s been years since the state has fed thousands on the morning of the Kentucky Derby, but Mike Vaughn vividly recalls the frantic pace of preparing enough biscuits, eggs, sausage and country ham for at least 13,000 visitors.

Rain or shine, the breakfast drew large crowds from near and far to the Capitol grounds. Mike’s first year preparing the feast “was an educational time,” he admitted.

“It was a whole new experience, but it was great,” said Mike, who has worked in the Kentucky Department of Parks, now as food service operation manager, for about a decade.

“By the time the last year we did it, the crew that was in existence at that time, we were all pretty tight by the fifth year we did it. I mean, we had it down to a science. It was great - it was still a lot of hard work, but we made a lot of changes to make it a lot easier, more efficient.”

The state scaled back the Derby breakfast in 2009 before moving the event from the Capitol grounds to downtown Frankfort in 2011. Still, Mike, 37, was glad to work amid the chaos while it lasted.

“I’d always heard about it (the breakfast), but to be involved with it was just, it was awesome,” he said.

A chef who has spent 20 years in the food industry, Mike uses his expertise in crafting a daily menu at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s dining hall. His monthly Indian buffet quickly won over skeptics and is now a featured attraction that draws scores from state government and the public.

Much of Mike’s training has come from years of trial and error. He never pursued culinary school, believing work in a kitchen would be more valuable than formal training. He began as a dishwasher near his hometown of Bowling Green before working as a chef in catering and fine dining. He came to Frankfort and found work in Serafini’s kitchen for three years until he started with the state.

Mike said the experience has prepared him to multitask in the kitchen and handle myriad situations that frequently pop up, such as equipment failure or staff shortages.

“There’s never a day that’s the same when you’re working in a kitchen,” Mike said. “You can always expect the unexpected.”

Though most of his time is spent at the Transportation Cabinet on Mero Street, Mike has cooked in the state’s kitchens at the Capitol Annex and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services building on Main Street.

Mike could see a “night and day difference” in traffic at the Capitol Annex cafeteria with the General Assembly in session, attracting droves of lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates to Frankfort.

“Once the legislative session begins, the annex comes alive,” he said. “It’s full all the time.”

Beyond the day-to-day work of running a kitchen, Mike’s job affords him opportunities to travel the state for special events and personally cater to famous guests. He recalled cooking for television actress Fran Drescher and her entourage while she visited Frankfort for the 2010 Celebration of Hope luncheon honoring breast cancer survivors.

The request came a few days before Drescher arrived, and Mike and others in the kitchen prepared some traditional Kentucky and southern fare for the visitors during their stay at the lieutenant governor’s mansion: country hams and sausages, peach cobbler with streusel crust and homemade vanilla ice cream.

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