Charles Belt is regarded as a talented actor in productions of the Fort Smith Little Theatre and a semi-pro stand-up, improv and story-telling comic.  He spent a few years earning his time at the mic in Chicago’s tough, competitive comedy scene. He’s a funny guy. He peppers his social media with video character skits, goofy polls and a recurring gag about the merits of corn dogs.

But when it comes to his current profession, he’s a straight man – a serious, dedicated cook.

Charles Belt is regarded as a talented actor in productions of the Fort Smith Little Theatre and a semi-pro stand-up, improv and story-telling comic.  He spent a few years earning his time at the mic in Chicago’s tough, competitive comedy scene. He’s a funny guy. He peppers his social media with video character skits, goofy polls and a recurring gag about the merits of corn dogs.

But when it comes to his current profession, he’s a straight man – a serious, dedicated cook. He creates 60 plates per meal, five days a week, of nutritious food for men who are residents at Fort Smith’s Harbor House Recovery Center. He’s passionate about nourishing his clients. 

Charles attained sobriety in the same program and, with humility, considers the men he feeds as brothers in reaching for control of their lives. He enjoys feeding them very well. 

When he was in in-house recovery, he had worked in the Harbor House kitchen as a helper. In fact, he was inspired with menu ideas and sometimes pestered the boss with them.

Previously, while chasing his comedy dreams, he had cooked in busy Chicago restaurant kitchens and catering and had, mostly, found it enjoyable – but only as a side hustle. At the time, he pictured himself as a comedy headliner; he had no fantasies of becoming a chef. 

“My life has been mayhem,” he said, “but I guess the one constant through all of it has been food. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I had never thought it was what I should do.”

Until he found that he did. 

After he had graduated from in-house recovery to transitional living and had eight months of sobriety, he heard through a friend that the long-time kitchen manager and cook at Harbor House was leaving. 

At the time, Charles had taken a job in retail. It was going well. But suddenly, he realized he really did want to run a kitchen – that kitchen in particular. 

He took his lunch break and went to Harbor House and applied, immediately. He learned there were other applicants. But he kept inquiring, every few days. He was hired! Then had one day to train with his former kitchen boss. 

“It felt like I had immediately bitten off more than I could chew,” he said. After learning so much in recovery and working hard in sobriety to live and work responsibly, he wondered if he had slipped back into being too impulsive. 

“I was nervous, but I stood in front of the flat top, just like I have used hundreds of times. There was a spatula just like the one I always use. I stood there and held it in my hand and thought, ‘I can do this.’ I got through that first meal and it felt really good,” he said.

There was a period of learning and scrambling. But in time, he found confidence in his competence. His enjoyment of his work is constantly growing.

“It’s a very satisfying job. I wake up in the morning and I know what my purpose is,” he explained. “When I walked through those doors – when anybody walks through those doors – people have not been eating or, at least, they have not been eating well. When you’re in that state, your body isn’t working right and your brain isn’t working right – and you’re suffering. It’s hard for you to hear anything that anyone says to you,” he said.

“The job of the kitchen is the front line, to get some nutrients in there and get their brain working better so maybe they can hear what we’re trying to say to them in the rest of the house,” Charles said.  “So, I get to play a small part in people’s recovery and I love that part.”

How to cook for 60 diners

The style of service he’s responsible for at Harbor House is most like catering and nothing like a restaurant’s long and varied menu, Charles noted. He serves planned meals.

“Everyone is served a plated meal, at the same time, in about six minutes. That’s how long it takes to go through the serving line and be seated,” he said. “We’re going to put all our creative energy into this one meal. Everybody is going to get it and we’re going to sit down and eat this meal together, talk and dine with others,” he said.

Charles wants a meal to be a break, where his clients relax and enjoy themselves and that’s what his employer wants, as well. Harbor House provides him with high-quality food and ingredients. 

Presentation is important in his kitchen. 

“I want it to look really nice when they get it. You have to catch their eyes first.”

He’s responsible for every nourishment the clients will have during their recovery. For individual meals and the weekly menu he creates, he tries to include appetizing fare with nutritional balance and tempting variety. 

They’re men, he noted, and they are likely to  think they prefer meat and that they “don’t eat rabbit food.” Like any cook who cares, he tries to get both protein, good veggies and fruit into his charges. On Thursday night,s he serves green salads as a main course, often topped with chicken or beef. He’s learned a few strategies like plating salad as a side dish. It gets eaten more often that way. 

Charles loves a challenge and sometimes sets his own, like holding an “Around the World in 10 Meals” series from time to time.

Popular “winners” he has served include his own Chicken & Waffles recipe and a “Croque Madame” grilled sandwich (it has an egg, hence the feminine description). 

He has at least four signature sauces that include Wasabi Ginger and Cajun Com’ Back sauce. From his time working on a Chicago food truck called “Bruges Brothers,” he learned to appreciate excellent Belgian french fries, smothered in a variety of tasty sauces.  

However, he may offer home cookin’ after a fancy meal. Charles has one tested, hit menu with recipes that he shares with the magazine and it comes with a back-story of a near-failure from early days at Harbor House. It stars “Frito Meatloaf” as the entree.

“The go-to meals for a large crowd are spaghetti or chili,” he said. “I chose these recipes instead, because they use a lot of the same ingredients, but enable you to plate some classic Southern comfort food that’s usually thought of as too difficult when feeding a lot of people.”

“The menu is designed to utilize the whole kitchen, so you'll be able to pull this off even if the space you're working out of is small,” he explained. “The cornbread can be baked the day before, the carrots cook on the stovetop, meatloaves in the oven the day of, dressing in a large slow cooker, and dessert in the freezer.”

Bouyed by continued sobriety, a satisfying job and very, very happy in a lovely relationship of several years, Charles is a thankful person.

He’s considering writing a cookbook with some of his recipes for feeding a crowd and shares these recipes as a first step. 

Try it! His recipe for a meat loaf meal for 25 follows.


Everybody Gets a Meatloaf!  

The full Frito Meatloaf menu, with two side dishes and a pie for dessert! 

Commentary by the cook, Charles Belt. My first attempt at cooking meatloaf for 60 did not, shall we say ... go well. It was my first week on the job and with 30 minutes until dinner was supposed to start, I was dealing with three enormous meatloaves, all unevenly cooked. I cranked up the oven and was able to serve lunch on time, but wasn't satisfied with what I put on the plate. Weeks went by and I couldn't work up the courage to attempt the meal again, until one day I thought of Oprah, "You get a meatloaf. And YOU get a meat loaf! Everybody gets their own meatloaf!" They came out perfectly cooked, moist, tender and full of flavor! They've been a staple in the kitchen ever since.

Prep. 40 min. Cook 60 min. Serves 25


10 lbs. ground beef

2 large onions, diced

1 green and 2 colored bell peppers, seeded & diced

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups Panko bread crumbs

2 cups Fritos corn chips (crushed)

12 large eggs

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups + 1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup Worcestershire

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup minced garlic

5 tbsp. onion powder

5 tbsp. Italian seasoning


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large pan and cook diced peppers and onions until they're slightly tender. In a large bowl, hand mix cooked peppers and onions with remaining ingredients, reserving the 1/2 cup ketchup for later. Be careful not to over mix. Form 25 football-shaped meatloaves (approximately 10 oz. each) and place them on a large greased sheet pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove, brush remaining ketchup over the tops of each meatloaf and return to oven for 15 minutes or until internal temperature reads 145 degrees. Cool 10 minutes before serving. 

Crowd-Pleasing Carrots

Not only a great source of important vitamins and minerals, carrots are a treat all on their own and this recipe lets their true brilliance shine through! They're cooked longer over a low heat until their natural sugars caramelize, they're fork tender, and oh-so satisfying. This is the perfect side to round out your plate of meatloaf and cornbread dressing. Add a salad of mixed greens and you've got yourself a meal that's delicious, nourishing and pleasing to the eye! - Charles Belt

Prep. 10 min. Cook 45-60 min. Serves 25


6 lbs baby carrots (raw)

1 cup water + more if needed

1/4 cup butter (melted)

4 tbsp. Italian seasoning

Salt & pepper to taste

1/8 cup white or rice wine vinegar


Add baby carrots to a large pot with a good lid and a thick bottom. Add water until it's about half an inch deep, cover and place over a low heat.

Stir ever 15 minutes and add water as needed to continue the slow cooking process with steam. Pull carrots from the heat when a fork is just able to cut through them. Add melted butter, seasoning, vinegar  and salt & pepper to taste. Stir until carrots are coated.

Re-cover and allow carrots to continue to cook until desired tenderness.

Slow-Cooker Cornbread Dressing

This slightly sweet and wonderfully savory dressing is easy and perfect alongside Frito Meatloaf. I like to have some of both in each bite. The cornbread can be made the day before and the combined ingredients loaded into the slow-cooker on the day of.

Prep. 30 min. Cook 30-40 min. + 3-4 hrs. Serves 25



22⁄3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups yellow cornmeal

11⁄3 cup granulated sugar

4 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

11⁄3 cup milk

1/3 cup honey


8 qt. chicken/vegetable broth (low sodium)

1/2 cup butter (melted)

4-5 leftover biscuits (crumbled small pieces)

1 cup frozen corn

8 tbsp. poultry seasoning

8 tbsp. sage

4 tbsp. chives

Salt & pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the cornbread until well combined. Transfer the batter to two 9x13 greased cake pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, placing one on the top rack and the other on the bottom, switching and rotating halfway through. Remove from oven when they're golden brown on top and set in the middle. Allow cornbread to cool completely. Crumble into large, 18-quart slow-cooker. Add crumbled biscuits and toss together. Whisk liquids and seasonings for dressing in bowl, then pour over crumbled bread. Mix with a spoon and cover. Cook on low/200 degrees for 3-4 hours or until heated through.

Café Mocha Pie

My grandfather, Johnny Belt (aka Papaw),  would always say the same thing after a big meal, "Whatta we got to sweeten up on?" And it's a family tradition that survives through today. This dessert is easy, but that doesn't mean it won't be impressive. The slight bitterness of the coffee perfectly balances the sweetness in the pudding and its creamy texture is complemented by the crunchy cookie crust, making this the best follow-up to your meal.


4 prepared chocolate pie crusts

4 (5.9 oz.) instant chocolate pudding mixes

2 cups of your favorite coffee (black, chilled)

2 + 4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 bottle chocolate syrup (chilled)


Place large metal mixing bowl in freezer or fill with ice water until chilled. Prepare pudding mixes in a separate large bowl according to directions, but instead of liquid called for, use chilled coffee and 2 cups heavy cream. Divide thickened pudding evenly between 4 prepared crusts, smoothing it out with a plastic spatula. Place pies in freezer while preparing whipped topping. Add 4 cups heavy cream and 3/4 cups sugar into a chilled metal mixing bowl. Using whisk attachment(s), mix until cream thickens and forms stiff peaks. Remove pies from freezer, spread whipped cream in a thick layer over each of them. Drizzle each with chilled chocolate syrup. Return to freezer. Set out on counter as you sit down to eat and the texture will be perfect when it's time for the dessert course. 




316 North 7th Street
Fort Smith, AR 72901