He ran restaurants in Cotati and Petaluma and now cooks for free, and loves it

Peter Markey owned restaurants in San Francisco, Petaluma and Cotati, but now he spends part of his retirement preparing food for women and children at Santa Rosa nonprofit The Living Room.|

Peter Markey for decades made a living as a chef who owned restaurants in San Francisco, Petaluma and Cotati. And it was good.

At 76, he makes no money cooking part time for people who have no home or in other ways struggle to get by. And that's very good, too.

"It's my favorite time of the week typically," Markey said of his regular volunteer shift in the kitchen at The Living Room. That's the ambitious day center for women and children on Santa Rosa's Cleveland Avenue.

Markey is one of the chefs or cooks who take turns preparing the hot, high-quality meals served each weekday not only to the women and kids who rely on the services and support of The Living Room, but to others in need of nutrition.

Last Friday, Markey and his crew prepared more than 100 servings of duck breast with orange sauce, rice and fresh corn cut from the cob and glazed with butter. That went over well with the diners — he calls them guests — whom Markey finds to be reliably grateful.

"I remember one time I made hamburgers and french fries and they were really happy. They gave me a big applause."

The quasi-retired chef relishes his time with the people he helps to feed and also with staffers and fellow kitchen volunteers of The Living Room.

"It's a great operation here, a great group of people," he said. "They care. They care 100% about what they're doing and what they're preparing."

Markey worked a quarter of a century in the restaurant business. Through a good chunk of the ’80s and ’90s he ran restaurants in Petaluma and Cotati that became, respectively, the Tea Room and the Redwood Cafe.

Earlier he operated the Sunshine Juice Bar in San Francisco.

Uninterested in a dormant retirement, Markey years ago became a volunteer chef at the Petaluma shelter and service center for people who are homeless by COTS, the Committee on the Shelterless.

Upon moving from Petaluma to Santa Rosa nearly four years ago, Markey joined the kitchen volunteers at The Living Room. These days, he arrives early on Thursdays to begin prepping for the pandemic-era to-go breakfasts and lunches that will be served up on Fridays.

Some of those who come for the meals carry them off, others quickly find a spot to sit and savor whatever it is that Markey and his crew has created. As always, it pleases the chef to please his guests.

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