Whether it’s Hungarian paprika chicken, sausage lentil soup or Brussels sprouts with pickled onion, local resident Mark Adinolfi loves to try new recipes. He is happiest feeding his passion – whipping up gourmet dishes for his wife Jeanne and daughter Sophia.
But in January 2016, Mark was diagnosed with ALS, a type of muscular dystrophy sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. At first, Mark noticed a loss of strength in both hands. As his condition progressed, he was no longer able to prepare meals — even though his heart longed to be in the kitchen, chopping, dicing and sautéing.
“Because of ALS, I can’t provide other things as much,” Mark said. “But I still wanted to spoil my wife, who appreciates good food.”
Thanks to a marvelous assistant, Mark is still a chef. Hospice of the Valley volunteer and area resident Jeff Riddle has become Mark’s hands. Though he calls himself “a reluctant cook,” Jeff dutifully executes the detailed instructions Mark gives from his motorized wheelchair — from sprinkling Aleppo Turkish pepper on potato slices to slicing apples just the right thickness.
“This disease isolates me,” Mark said. “But a wonderful guy comes into my life and sometimes when he shows up, I say, ‘Dude, we’re cooking whatever falls out of the fridge.’”
Riddle said “cooking and sharing a meal with Mark and his family is the best thing that I do.”
“We improvise a lot due to his prowess and it always tastes amazing!” he added.
Every Friday, the Adinolfi kitchen is filled with laughter. The weekly ritual is something both men anticipate with excitement. They tease and joke as if they’ve always known one another. Sophia even decorated an apron for Jeff. The 11-year-old inspects the meat to make sure it’s brown enough before going in the oven. A beaming Jeanne sets the table, savoring the happy noises and the tantalizing smell of caramelized onions.
About an hour later, dinner is served: beautifully roasted pork tenderloin with green apples and rosemary potatoes. The meal is perfect.
But it’s not really about the food.
“Jeff met me in a wheelchair,” Mark said. “He’s not like an old friend who maybe has a little sadness in their eyes. Jeff knows me exactly as I am now… He’s a genuine new friend.”
Such friendships are waiting for anyone who might feel moved to volunteer with a family. If you’re interested in providing companionship to Hospice of the Valley patients and offering support and respite to their families — whether it’s cooking reading, singing or just being present and caring, contact hov.org/volunteer or call 602-530-6900. Hospice of the Valley is based at 1510 E. Flower St.