Several chefs have told us before that they're in the business of entertainment. Alex Stupak of Empellón summed it up well: "It's food, and it's not even food in terms of nourishing the masses. We're restaurants; we're in the entertainment industry."
But when something as dramatic as Sandy hits, that understanding gets turned on its head. And now that (much of) the power is back, they're doing what they can to bring food to those who have lost everything.
While many chefs are generously throwing dinners for charity (like Momofuku /Café Boloud's $500 plate dinner to benefit the Red Cross and Telepan's $200 tasting menu benefiting the Mayor's Fund for Hurricane Relief), or donating a portion of their proceeds (just-repoened Empellon with proceeds from margaritas and a collection of restaurants this Thursday with Dine Out Williamsburg), a team has come together to take their skills one step further.
This coming Wednesday evening, chefs Seamus Mullen (Tertulia), Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch), and Marco Canora (Hearth) will be teaming up with Chef George Mendes and pastry Chef Shelly Acuna at ALDEA for a $300-plate dinner that doesn't stop feeding when the last course is served.
In the days and weeks following the dinner, the chefs plan to rent a food truck and take turns driving to the hardest hit parts of the outer boroughs to cook hot food for the people who need it most. "Our intention is to feed people in the trenches," says Mullen. "We have access to the product and can produce it easily; it makes sense for us to do it." Hence the name, "NYC Food Flood."
"All of us wanted to do something, to give back, to help and feed people hit the hardest," Mendes explains. "We thoughts about cooking and donating the proceeds to charity, but then we realized we wanted to take it one step further—to take those funds, rent a truck, and feed those in need."
"We wanted to do something as quickly as possible," Mullen continues. "Everyone's really gung-ho about doing this; very selfless and concerned with supporting our community. These guys have such good hearts and are such good people."
Mendes' ALDEA suffered, having lost all their prepped food and business Monday through Friday. When they reopened, they created an almost entirely new "market menu," literally crafting dishes out of whatever he and his staff could find at the farmer's markets after having thrown away the entirety of their spoiled supplies.
Mullen was able to reopen Tertulia as he kept a condensed fridge cold with dry ice and cooked a limited menu on two burners, but still lost an estimate of $15,000-$20,000 a day. Yet he concluded, "One of the remarkable things was that even though we were feeding people that had means and were only inconvenienced, they were still people that were hungry and sick of eating cold food in the darkness. It showed a symbolic sense of solidarity and reminded me of how big the community in New York can be."
"We had a hard week," Mendes lamented. "But we were hit with maybe one quarter of what a lot of people had. We're in the business of giving and hospitality. If they can't come to us we've got to be able to mobilize. To feed people and nourish people. To fill their stomachs and be there in solidarity. It's not just our business, it's our community."
The menu between the chefs isn't set, but Mendes promises something extravagant with a meat course of maybe suckling pig or a dry-aged ribeye. Mullen will be dishing up hamachi (Japanese yellowtail) poached in smoked oil with preserved lemon.
Mullen agrees with Chef Stupak that "People don't need to go out to eat—we're not a necessity, we're a luxury." But the past week of Tertulia being open and preparing for the upcoming FoodFlood dinner has liquefied that idea a bit: "What we do on Wednesday—though it has a high price tag and will be about really good food—is going to provide legitimate money. A good amount of money that we can use to directly impact people who need food."
The dinner will begin with a cocktail reception at 7pm followed by dinner and wine pairings at 7:30pm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.
There will be an announcement next week about the communities that the chefs will be visiting.
About the author: Jacqueline Raposo is a writer and frantic private cook whose heart goes out to those still coming back from Sandy. Alternatively baking at www.thedustybaker.com and tweeting away at @dustybakergal.