It was on day 4 of Hurricane Harvey that I realized my home was going to make it through without flooding. Despite my relief, I felt terrible about what was happening in my city so I reached out on Facebook to find other chefs who could plug me in to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort. I didn’t have a boat so the only possible thing to do was cook. On Tuesday, I dropped off 40 lbs of frozen chicken to Chef Richard Knight who was cooking at Les Begat, but he had enough chefs in the kitchen. Chef Rogers William Closson III contacted me about helping with a huge prep effort over at Grand Prize bar so off I went. When I arrived at Grand Prize around noon, I found Chef Closson and his co-worker Rusty in a postage stamp-sized kitchen with 1,000 lbs of donated beef. What started out as chili soon became a deconstructed shepherd’s pie as we had to be out of the kitchen by 10:00 p.m. At 9:55, we loaded the last of the food into a delivery vehicle and I felt a great sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction in being able to assist in the effort.
Chef Tony contacted me about cooking the next morning early (7:30 a.m.) at the only available kitchen, Saint Danes on Elgin. The challenge was to prepare a meal for 300 people in a tiny kitchen meant to prepare bar food within 2.5 hours at which time the bar staff would arrive to open the kitchen for business. Challenge accepted!
Wednesday morning, I met up with Chef Tony and Chaise Dykes at Saint Danes and went in to check out the facilities. The kitchen was only big enough for 2 people at a time and the tiny stove had 4 burners, but we fired it up and started water boiling for pasta Bolognese. Have you ever tried to cook in someone else’s kitchen and you don’t know where anything is? Well, it was like that—we had to do a little McGyvering to make it work. Luckily, we found a large chinois to strain the pasta water and utilized large spatulas to move the ground meat around in large pots so it would brown but we pulled it off!
We loaded up 7 large aluminum pans with penne pasta and meat sauce, covered them in foil and drove it over to Reef, which was the designated drop-off for food to be picked up and delivered to shelters and first responders. Once we had unloaded not only the pasta but the 200 lbs of frozen fish that Cat Nguyen had found and boxes of vegetables that other chefs had collected from their sources to help feed rescuers and rescuees affected by Harvey that I took a moment to let what was going down wash over me and I felt what I can only describe as a sense of community flooded through me. I am very thankful to have been a part of a huge effort—it was the most humbling and gratifying experience of my life.