The scene was bordering on chaos.
In a modest kitchen, complete with an island dominating much of the floor space, five grown men bustled about, shifting positions and duties while trading bawdy, stereotypically male quips.
“You’re in somebody else’s kitchen, you don’t know where anything is at,” IT consultant and owner of All Ways on IT Duane Johnson said, explaining the turbulent cooking space.
On that early December afternoon, the group was preparing dinner for a company Christmas party; the scene would probably become even more comical if an outsider stumbled in and learned that the mess of men scrambling to prepare food aptly called themselves The PIGS.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, the end result would be an extravagant seven-course meal featuring a shrimp puff pastry with smoked gouda appetizer, a herb-encrusted beef tenderloin and asparagus entree and a dessert of bourbon and vanilla-cherry ice cream served in almond lattice. Plus a $1,000 donation to the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, which advocates in the best interest of abused and neglected kids.
That’s the foundation of The PIGS operation. They cook a gourmet meal accompanied with drinks for guests, but instead of charging for their services the guests make a donation to a nonprofit of their choice.
It seems to be a win-win-win. The guests get excellent food, charitable organizations get needed donations and The PIGS have a great time cooking together.
“It’s a charity deal, but it’s a good excuse to hang out with my friends and (banter),” Jeff Sealey, deputy county attorney, said.
“Make bad jokes,” he added.
“I really like cooking. That’s my favorite part,” Jay Listoe, engineer at CTA Helena, said.
He added that it provides a break from the stresses of real life, but the most important piece is that they are doing good things for charity.
The group is topped off by cocktail aficionado Hud Bannon, who works as a bartender at Papa Ray’s Casino, and head-PIG John MacDonald, a public affairs specialist who owns his own consulting company.
MacDonald brought the idea to Helena from a PIGS group he was part of in North Dakota.
While working for the Associated Press in Fargo, MacDonald and a group of guy friends would get together on Sundays to cook for themselves. Eventually, one of the guys' girlfriends suggested they put on an event.
The name The PIGS was born around the same time after the group embraced a retort about their lewd humor.
It has since morphed into a myriad of acronyms: Prepping Incredibly Gourmet Suppers, Put In a Good Spirit, Purveyors of Incredible Gastronomical (nobody could remember the “S”).
When MacDonald moved to Helena, he gathered a group of friends who all shared the same interest in food and started the troop in his new home town.
They have since put on about 15 dinners that benefited nonprofits including Intermountain, the Florence Crittenton Home, Helena Food Share, Helena Symphony, ExplorationWorks and others.
Sometimes they enter their services in a silent auction, other times someone will call and book The PIGS for a special celebration.
“We’re not going to do your office party if you don’t donate, b*tches,” Listoe said.
They have a few staple dishes and drinks, like the grapefruit-vodka sorbet and penne drauber cocktail — a twist on the well-known panty dropper drink disguised with a classy name.
Sometimes they experiment with new dishes.
“The problem is by the end of the night we don’t remember how we did it,” Johnson joked.
Twelve people was the biggest group they did a full dinner for and once they served appetizers to 30. They’re even scheduled to emcee an event for CASA in March 2015.
“We not only cook, we entertain,” Listoe said.
They entertain groups and each other throughout the hours it takes to prepare dinner -- constantly ribbing one another and winging ingredient measurements.
“We can be as unprofessional as we want to,” Johnson said.
“Right up until 6,” Listoe responded.
“Exactly,” Johnson replied.
6 p.m. was the scheduled time for the eight employees at the management consulting company Public Knowledge to arrive for dinner.
John Conley, CEO of Public Knowledge, who works in Denver, and a Public Knowledge owner from Boise flew in for the party. This year one of the Helena employees suggested hiring The PIGS instead of going out to dinner at a restaurant.
“As far as holiday parties go it was one of the better ones we’ve had,” Conley said.
The drinks and appetizers started coming at about 6 p.m. and didn’t stop until 9 or 9:30 that night, Conley said. He added that The PIGS introduced each dish, cracked jokes and filled in everyone from Public Knowledge on the happenings in Helena.
“I like to call myself a selective eater, my family calls me picky ... there was not a single dish I did not devour,” Conley said, adding that he even scouted for leftovers to bring back to his hotel before leaving.
The cherry on top, Conley said, was knowing that at the end of the night CASA would benefit from a donation.
Despite the chaotic kitchen scene throughout the afternoon, The PIGS cleaned up at the end of the night.
Anyone interested in contacting The PIGS can reach them through their Facebook page, PIGS of Helena.