N.Y. chefs arrange 2nd helping for victims

Aid: After feeding rescue workers with soups, sandwiches and floating restaurants, New York's top chefs cook up a national fund-raiser for Oct. 11.

October 10, 2001|By Joan Scobey | Joan Scobey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK -- Shortly after the World Trade Center disaster Sept. 11, chefs from New York City's top restaurants instinctively started doing what they do best: feed people. Some came from restaurants in lower Manhattan that were temporarily forced to close. Others, further uptown, mourned World Trade Center victims who were among their friends and customers, and jumped into action.

Now, as New Yorkers again try to go about their normal lives, visitors and residents can eat some of the best food in town while showing their gratitude to these restaurateurs whose stars shine brighter today than any that Michelin could bestow.

At Gramercy Tavern on East 20th Street, Danny Meyer and his staff heard the news and thought, "We have food, and people need it." The first two days, they brought food to triage units. The third day, they moved over to Eleven Madison Park, Meyer's restaurant two blocks from the 26th Street Armory, where they could carry hot food to Red Cross workers, police, firefighters, chaplains and anguished families at the grief and counseling center. That Thursday, they delivered 3,000 meals.

On the Upper East Side the day after the attack, Daniel Boulud and two cooks from the fashionable Restaurant Daniel jumped into a van with 300 portions of spaghetti Bolognese for firefighters who hadn't eaten in 24 hours.

Down at Tribeca Grill, barely a dozen blocks north of the blast, Drew Nieporent turned his restaurant into a soup-and-sandwich kitchen, put on a gas mask, and ferried food down to a Red Cross station.

Meanwhile, Don Pintabona, chef of Tribeca Grill, realized that, with streets around "ground zero" closed to all but emergency traffic, a good way to get to the rescue workers was by water. He called a ship captain buddy and soon two Spirit Cruises ships, which normally take sightseers around Manhattan, became floating restaurants.

The operation was dubbed "Chefs With Spirit." The Spirit of New Jersey, docked at Pier 61, Chelsea Piers, is still the kitchen where an ever-growing number of chefs and other volunteers continue to work around the clock in eight-hour shifts of about 50 people each. A smaller tour boat shuttles food down the Hudson River to the Spirit of New York, which is docked near the World Financial Center, just a few hundred yards from ground zero.

The Spirit of New York serves as the canteen where rescue workers can get a good meal, a little rest and even a massage.

The Spirit of New Jersey is where Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Gray Kunz and a roster of other famous chefs made thousands of sandwiches after the attack. In the first five days, they served an estimated 175,000 meals.

Although they were crowded into a ship's galley, whatever they made had to be up to their exacting standards.

"Make those sandwiches delicious!" Daniel Boulud called out to his team more than once. "Remember, they are coming from Daniel." And when Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America apologetically asked the chefs if they were using Wonder Bread, a startled Drew Nieporent said, "No! This is from my bakery."

As the chefs reopen their res- taurants, the Red Cross is taking over the food operation on the two ships. The plan is to keep the same well-oiled machine going, and hire some of the chefs and food companies that have donated so much to the project.

The top toques and restaurants were only the most visible contributors.

Hundreds of other neighborhood restaurants and food establishments also jumped into action, from Artie's Deli to Zito's Bread Store, John's (and Joe's) Pizza to Ollie's Noodle Shop. City Harvest, which usually collects unused food from New York restaurants for charitable distribution, delivered produce and provisions to the chefs on the Spirit ships so that they could transform them into hot, nourishing meals.

As for the chefs, they are continuing their rescue missions in their own kitchens through the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund. Spearheaded by Tom Valenti, chef/owner of Ouest on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Michael Lomonaco, executive chef of two of the restaurants destroyed in the attack, and Waldy Malouf, of Beacon in midtown, chefs are mobilizing to raise money for families of all the food workers lost in the attack.

Lomonaco himself had an anguishingly close escape when, by chance, he stopped that morning to get new reading glasses in the shopping concourse instead of going upstairs to his 106th-floor kitchens at Windows on the World.

"Two days after the blast, I called Michael to ask how I could help," said Valenti. "Michael talked of a fund-raiser for the families of the workers he had lost, but the thought of a party just didn't seem appropriate. Suddenly I had the idea of sending profits from my restaurant, and the day of Oct. 11 immediately seemed right."

Valenti called chefs Mario Batali and Bobby Flay, and asked them each to call three more chefs, who in turn should each call three more, and so on. Within days, more than a thousand restaurants had joined. So on Oct. 11, restaurants around the country and Canada will donate part of the day's proceeds to Windows of Hope.

Oct. 11 will be a good day to eat out, wherever you are.

Copyright Joan Scobey, 2001

Local participation

More than 200 Maryland restaurants, as well as some grocery stores, have agreed to donate from 5 percent to 10 percent of their sales tomorrow to the American Red Cross for disaster relief. A list of participating restaurants is available through the Restaurant Association of Maryland at its Web site, www.marylandrestaurants .com, or by calling the association at 800-874-1313.

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