Local healthcare workers and first responders are commonly eating out of vending machines and grabbing snacks wherever they can, while, at the same time, restaurants are struggling for business.
Looking to provide relief to both groups, local author Troy Gilbert, together with Robert Peyton, a food writer and attorney, have created Chef’s Brigade, a grassroots organization that offers a bit of aid to our restaurant industry and helps sustain our first responders with more satisfying fare than Nacho Cheese Doritos or Lance Toast Chee Peanut Butter Crackers. The “brigades” of 10 restaurants will be located in hospital parking lots and NOPD stations to provide free, hot and safe meals to all first responders.
Chef’s Brigade is also partnering with the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation (NOPJF), a nonprofit whose mission includes providing assistance to police officers, first responders and health care providers.
“NOPJF was already working on a project similar to ours, and partnering with them allows us to take advantage of their expertise in fundraising and, more important, correctly administering funds,” Peyton says.
Chef’s Brigade is raising funds through gofundme and partnerships with nonprofits and foundations, and is directly compensating restaurants for providing meals.
“We aren’t able to pay ‘Jazz fest money,’ but the restaurants we’ve gotten involved are grateful for the business,” Peyton says. “The chefs I’ve spoken to want to help the industry as much as we do.”
Last weekend, Joe Riccobono of Sala and Jacques Soulas, and his son, Sebastian, of Cafe Degas, fed first responders at the New Orleans Police Department’s 3rd District HQ. A second brigade has already formed to provide meals to an EMT unit, and a third is in the works for the 5th District. Hospitals are the next target.
In addition to Riccobono and Soulas, chefs and restaurateurs involved include Susan Spicer of Rosedale and Bayona, Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie and Bourre, Drew Mire of Johnny Sanchez, Clare Leavy of Like Oak Cafe, Jason Tournillon of the Backyard, Richard Angulo of La Cocinita, Mark Bonifacic of Central City BBQ and many others.
“The number of meals is in flux,” Peyton says. “We started by delivering 100 to the 3rd District, but we found they only needed around 40, so we’ve scaled back at that location to 60, recognizing that as word spreads there will likely be more demand. All of the restaurants are on notice that they may have to ramp back up to 100 meals in the near future. We’re sticking to 100 meals for the EMS unit at this time, and as we roll out to hospitals, we’re anticipating much larger numbers. There’s really no way to estimate at this point, but we can certainly see ending up at more than 1,000 meals delivered, two or three times a day.”
The team discussed safety early on and continue to talk to experts in the field about it. At the 3rd District they’re following guidelines, serving food from heated chafing dishes with one server into individual containers and providing pre-wrapped utensils.
“We’re simply dropping disposable chafing dishes off to the EMS unit and will do the same for hospitals, as both the EMS and health care environments have unique safety requirements,” Peyton says.
Fundraising took off after Gilbert was interviewed on CNN. The effort has raised about $31,450 to-date, with donations ranging from $5 to $1,000.
“It’s not going to make anybody rich, but if we can keep small restaurants afloat, we’ll have done something worthwhile for the city,” says Peyton. “And we’ve had people reach out from all over the world to ask how they can duplicate what we’re doing.”
If you are a restaurant owner and wish to partner, reach out via email to chefsbrigadeNOLA@gmail.com for more information.