It's a fair argument that what some chefs do in New York is on par with entertainment: their restaurants are luxuries that only a some can afford. Yet when last week's hurricane walloped our city, chefs didn't bask in the unexpected free time away from their cold stoves. Instead, they discovered a personal mission in helping to feed the New Yorkers hit hardest by the storm.
"We all cook food every night and are in the business of taking care of people when they come into our restaurants, so this seemed like the most logical extension of what we do—feeding people who really need it," Chef Seamus Mullen of Tertulia said, his voice sympathetic and intent. Though without power, he'd managed to open Tertulia in the West Village for a few nights last week with a limited menu, but realized while feeding locals inconvenienced by the blackout was significant and fulfilling, it wasn't enough.
Chef George Mendes wasn't able to open his restaurant, Aldea. Chef Marco Canora's Hearth stayed closed all week, too. Chef Andrew Carmellini couldn't open Locanda Verde or The Dutch, so his team served hot soup to locals out in the cold.
All four downtown chefs took huge hits by losing spoiled products and days of revenue, but felt a responsibility to feed the thousands of New Yorkers whose homes and basic necessities have been destroyed by power outages, floods and fires. Mendes succinctly concludef, "It's not just our business, it's our community".
So on Wednesday night they teamed up at Aldea and threw a dinner for Sandy relief that stands apart from other benefit meals. In a project called NYC Food Flood, the $300-plate dinner raised over $20,000, which the chefs will use to get food to the hardest-hit regions like Red Hook, Staten Island and Breezy Point.
"We pretty much didn't spend a dime on this dinner tonight—everything was donated, from the stove to the pots to the carrots to the bread," Canora described to the exuberant and well-fed crowd. Pat Lafrieda Meats, Pierless Fish, Riviera Produce, Petrossian, Grandaisy Bakery, Despana, Bayfield Importing, T. Edward Wines, Winebow and Palm Bay International did the heavy lifting by donating the ingredients; "It was literally a 30-second conversation of, how much do you want, you'll have it tomorrow, goodbye," Mendes explained, and the room erupted in heartfelt applause.
The five course meal—as we'd suspected given the roster of talent—was great stuff. Each chef composed a course of their own (along with a sous chef or two). Wines from Portugal and France paired well with each plate, and tables quickly started intermingling—the meal and the cause equally weighted in conversation.
Today Canora heads to Red Hook with 40 gallons of soup—enough to feed 600 people. On Monday, Mullen and Carmellini hit Staten Island, and Tuesday Mendes and Canora head to Breezy Point.
"I just want to make sure that we're actually getting to the people who need the food most," Mullen worried. "We're going to learn a lot on Friday and continue to learn each time we go. To me it's really important that what we do doesn't come across as being trite, that it has an impact and is meaningful—it's not just a lemonade stand, you know?"
"We raised an excess of twenty grand tonight, and that's going to go a long way to feed a lot of people," Canora informed us.
"It starts here tonight, but we want you to know it continues," Mendes adds. "And on a final note, please visit our downtown restaurants: Hearth, Tertulia, Locanda Verde and Aldea. And buy meat from La Frieda and buy fish from Pierless. We all need it."
Follow the Flood
Marco Canora will be serving hot ribollita soup in Red Hook from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. today (Friday) out of the back of his truck. He'll be at the Red Hook Initiative at 767 Hicks Street.
On Monday, November 12, Seamus Mullen will serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ariana's Catering at 192 Ebbitts Street in Staten Island.
Miami friends can join Chef Carmellini and friends at The Dutch on Sunday, November 18th for a dinner and silent auction benefiting NYC Food Flood.
About the author: Jacqueline Raposo is a writer and frantic private cook, sending as much love and positive energy as she can to those suffering and those helping in relief efforts. Alternatively baking at www.thedustybaker.com and tweeting away at @dustybakergal.