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Cooking for a Cause

“Sharing is caring” was a saying I repeated to my young children and their friends. I considered it a valuable lesson and now, years later, it is a message I’ve seen in action as a freelance food writer in North Carolina.

The world’s fast-shifting news cycle has moved on from covering the devastating hurricane that hit North Carolina on September 14, 2018. Hurricane Florence barreled into our coast and left a trail of flooding, destruction, and death. Those impacted by the storm are struggling to come back. Thanks to quick and steadfast support from chefs in North Carolina’s Triangle region, the storm’s victims are not forgotten.

I’m a newbie in my area’s food-writing world. When a local writer friend mentioned an opening for freelance food writers at a local publication—my close-knit writing community also adheres to a sharing-is-caring philosophy—I jumped at the opportunity to combine the two things that I love, writing and food. In six months covering the Triangle food scene I’ve noticed again and again how local chefs are incredibly supportive of both each other and the broader community.

It’s evident in an abundance of food pop-ups in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; these events are built on a foundation of comradery and support. The reasons for food pop-ups vary. A chef working toward opening a restaurant will cook for a night in another chef’s kitchen to build excitement for the new venture. A food truck vendor serves a limited menu in a cocktail bar before transitioning to a brick and mortar location. One sweet pop-up was held at a downtown bakery and featured a special dessert by an outside chef.

Yet, the most vivid picture of the Triangle culinary community’s big heart was on display as Hurricane Florence bore down on our coastline. Even before the last of the storm’s outer bands left our shores, local chefs took to social media and called on one another to join together to help food industry workers who would be affected by the storm’s destruction. During this tense time, Chef Jake Wood, the chef de cuisine of 18 Seaboard, stayed in contact with culinary friends at the coast, assuring them the Raleigh community was working on ways to help.

From the beginning the goal was to get aid directly into the hands of those in need. Triangle chefs quickly galvanized, an effort that drew together the Triangle’s and the state’s best-known and award-winning chefs including Ashley Christensen, Scott Crawford, Andrea Reusing, Matt Kelly, Jake Wood, Teddy Diggs, Jeff Seizer, Vivian Howard, and the list goes on.

The first event, The Florence Relief Dinner at the Durham Hotel, came together when Chef Andrea Reusing enlisted the help of Chef Teddy Diggs. Chef Reusing is chef-owner of Lantern in Chapel Hill, as well as a James Beard winner for Best Chef: Southeast while Chef Diggs is the former executive chef of Il Palio who plans to open Coronato Pizza, a roman-style pizzeria, in 2019.

Held on September 17, the Monday immediately following the storm, The Florence Relief Dinner was organized with lightning speed. Reusing served as the event’s host and point person, pulling together the collaborative efforts of eleven chefs. The four-course, family-style dinner was planned to top out at one hundred guests but ended up serving closer to one hundred and seventy diners and raising close to ten thousand dollars. This money went to benefit the Farmworker Emergency Fund, dollars that immediately went for displaced farm workers and their necessities.

The next event was Come Together for the Coast on October 7. Chef Wood was culinary co-chair with James Beard–nominated chef, Scott Crawford, owner of Crawford and Son. As they began planning, Crawford reached out to The Sunday Supper, an organization that helps communities come together, and within days the chefs met with people from The Sunday Supper at which time they set the date, figured out logistics, designated committees, and got to work.

Over the next two weeks chefs from around the Triangle joined the effort, donating whatever was needed, including supplies, food, and labor. The event fed five hundred diners at The Dillon and featured food prepared by fifteen chefs, each hosting a station with small bites. Proceeds from this event, which raised a whopping $400,000, went to benefit victims of Hurricane Florence.

The third event was seeded at Come Together for the Coast when Ashley Christensen got together with Wood to discuss an event to help the fisherman affected by Florence. The result was Gone Fishin’ on October 27 at Junction West in Raleigh. A family-friendly day party, this event offered an all-seafood menu of small plates prepared by fifteen North Carolina chefs. In keeping with the seafood theme, Wood prepared a crispy oyster po’ boy slider topped with blistered mustard-shishito tartar sauce and Brussels sprout slaw.

In speaking with several chefs involved with Gone Fishin’, they all expressed admiration for Ashley Christensen, an award-winning chef, including being named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation, as well as being the owner of several popular Raleigh restaurants. Christensen shouldered much of the work for this event and made it easy for others to participate and, in the end, almost $28,000 was raised for the state’s watermen affected by Hurricane Florence.

For a business with a culture of brand building, Triangle’s chefs and leaders have built an impressive community, one with comradery as a central ingredient and a combined effort to lift each other up. These events came together with eager determination and a unifying goal—to have a positive impact on the lives of those who hadn’t been given a taste of anything positive since Florence.

I’ve enjoyed many meals at the restaurants run by the chefs participating in these fundraisers. Their acumen in the kitchen have delighted my taste buds and nourished my body. Now, food writing has afforded me a seat at a different table, one with a view of the big-heartedness these chefs exhibit for each other and our community at-large. These days, their generosity and caring nourishes my soul.


*All images taken by the author on November 11, 2018 at the Come Together for the Coast event on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC