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Sonoma County Gazette
Chefs and volunteers prepare meals at Backyard, Forestville for First-responders and Evacuees

Crusading Chefs

Oct 23, 2017
by Ron Skaar


America has a long history of civilians volunteering heroically during times of crises. Early settlers pooled their resources to survive their new surroundings. Homesteaders, during the country’s westward expansion, worked together to safeguard their livelihood.

Farmers donate food for evacuee mealsThe rigors of the Civil War led to the creation of the American Red Cross, the United Way and the YMCA. The first Volunteer Bureau was established in response to World War I. Americans continued those charitable ways during the Great Depression, with neighbors sharing food from their backyard gardens and orchards.

Disaster response galvanized the culinary community during the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Chefs for Humanity, created by Cat Cora, was created to help those most in need, here at home or overseas. She raised $100,000.00 to provide immediate relief to Haitians. One hundred percent of the proceeds went to the support of an essential school meal program.

Chefs for Humanity also played a vital role during Hurricane Katrina. With help from the ARC and an amazing group of women volunteers from Gulf Port, Mississippi, local evacuees and first responders were fed thousands of meals over a three week period. Cat Cora joined chefs Ming Thai, Charlie Ayers and Alton Brown, working tirelessly to prepare meals for displaced victims and relief workers.

James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef (and U.S. citizen) José Andres was inspired, after visiting earthquake-ravaged Haiti, to form the World Central Kitchen. This nonprofit promotes crucial culinary training and new kitchen equipment to improve the local communities education, economy, and health.

Food delivery by volunteers from the communityIn Houston, after Hurricane Harvey, Andres activated the WCK’s chef network to entice other professionals to help with the massive chore of feeding people living in makeshift shelters. He pared up with Cuisine Solutions, a firm which specializes in prepared products cooked via sous-vide water baths. The foods ready to eat quality works well with many shelters lacking kitchens.

In late August Andres and his WCK sta were serving 20,000 meals per day to the victims of Harvey. After Haiti and Houston, Andres and his crew are now on the ground in Puerto Rico after the double whammy of Hurricane Irma and Maria. They have paired up with native chefs, utilizing their kitchens to prepare and deliver food to hundreds of thousands of people.

Volunteers cooked meals in very large quantity to feed thousandsChef and caterer Ryan Waesche helped during the hurricanes in both Texas and Florida. Now he is in Northern California helping feed aected locals and those battling the wildfires. He met up with Mercy Chefs, an organization established 11 years ago to better manage and serve food during disasters. They paired with the Christian Family Fellowship of Santa Rosa to set-up a large mobile kitchen.

They started by serving meals to volunteers, police, fire, public safety workers, members of the National Guard and the U.S. Army, a short distance from where 1,000 homes burnt to the ground.

So many other local and famous chefs are stepping up to the plate. Guy Fieri, who had to evacuate his own home in Sonoma County, began producing 5,000 meals a day, at a makeshift outdoor kitchen near the local Santa Rosa veterans building.

I leave you with a dish that brought comfort after another catastrophic disaster. During the dark days following the attacks on the World Trade towers, Regina Schrambling brought this stew to warm her colleague's hearts at The NewYorkTimes.

Chicken Pot Pies from Twist in ForestvilleBackyard restaurant in Forestville prepared 18,000 meals in the first days to first-responders & evacuees. They were one of the first organized relief efforts coming out of western Sonoma County. Their catering and restaurant, along with volunteers from the community, & generous donations from local farmers continue to help with this food relief effort. AND Twist Eatery prepared chicken pot pies in their tiny kitchen - yum! It should also be noted that volunteers throughout Forestville prepared home-cooked meals for firefighters, all organized by Tina Franchesci as part of a long family tradition.

Dijon and Coqnac Beef Stew

Ingredients for Dijon and Coqnac Beef Stew1/4 lb. salt pork, pancetta or bacon, diced 1 large onion, diced

3 shallots chopped

2-4 tablespoons butter

2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes 2 tablespoons flour plus salt and pepper 4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup coqnac

2 cups unsalted beef stock 1/2 cup Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons grainy mustard

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into half moons 1/2 mushrooms, steamed and quartered

1/4 cup red wine

Place salt pork in large heavy kettle over medium-high heat and cook until fat is rendered. Remove with slotted spoon and save for another use. Add onions and shallots to pan and cook until softened, but not browned. Use slotted spoon to transfer to bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to pan, dust beef cubes with flour, salt and pepper. Shake o any excess flour and place 1/2 of cubes in pan and cook until well browned and crusty on all sides. Remove to blow with onions and repeat with remaining beef.

Add coqnac to empty pan, deglazing bottom and loosening any crusted bits. Add stock, Dijon and 1 tablespoon of coarse mustard, whisk to blend then add meat and onion mixture. Lower heat, cover pan partway and simmer gently until meat is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours.

Add carrots and simmer 30 more minutes. Meanwhile sautée mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter, add to stew along with remaining mustard and wine. Simmer 5 more minutes, adjust seasoning and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Photo by Jon Russo


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