Even an army of rescue workers marches on its stomach. And though the firefighters, police, and construction workers who braved the heat of ground zero volunteered their muscle and spirit, they still had to eat. So, at least for a short time, a battalion of the city’s best-known chefs was only too happy to consider meat loaf and lasagna three-star fare.
The most difficult part may have been the logistics. “There was no way a high-school cafeteria could handle this job,” Don Pintabona, chef of Tribeca Grill, said of Stuyvesant High School, an early staging area. “Then I looked out the window and saw a barge.” Pintabona, with the aid of chef Gray Kunz and Spirit Cruises, moored a boat at the World Financial Center Marina and turned it into a floating kitchen.
Daniel Boulud diverted 40 cooks and kitchen staff from his three restaurants into Pintabona’s effort, which served more than 25,000 hot meals a day. Drew Nieporent, owner of six TriBeCa restaurants, talked his way past the barricades to deliver meals to ground zero. Similarly, David Bouley, relying on a buddy in the NYPD, commandeered a Thai restaurant just north of the site to set up a 24-hour-a-day cafeteria.
For other chefs, feeding people proved not an end in itself but a means to raise money for the families of cooks and kitchen workers lost in the Twin Towers collapse. “Food-service people don’t earn a lot, and we don’t have life insurance and 401(k)s. Families needed money right away,” said Tom Valenti, the chef at Ouest. Valenti and Waldy Malouf of Beacon each called three more chefs and asked them in turn to call their friends. All were asked to stage an event on October 11 to benefit the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund. The nationwide telephone tree eventually reached more than 5,000 restaurants and served nearly 1 million meals to raise almost $7 million.
“It was good to do and a necessary thing,” said Daniel Boulud, summing up the food-community response. “It would have been nice to garnish the macaroni-and-cheese with a few black truffles,” he added wistfully. “But it was too early in the season. Quel dommage.”