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September 9, 2019

Editor’s Dish: How chefs are making a difference

José Andrés says chefs are uniquely suited to create unity. Here’s how that’s true in Charlotte

Once again, a chef is playing the hero. José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen staff were among the first rescue groups on the ground in the Bahamas, setting up a temporary kitchen to feed first responders and residents trying to survive after Hurricane Dorian decimated the islands. Andrés is no stranger to the Carolinas; he was here last year when Florence brought devastation to the coast and sent a team again last week as Dorian moved north.

Because of his efforts in the state, Andrés was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Foundation For The Carolinas’ annual luncheon earlier this year. I was lucky enough to get an invite thanks to John Beatty and the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. Andrés’ speech was inspiring, touching on why he thought chefs are a natural fit to help soothe moments of chaos and struggle and what food means for unity, saying:

“Nothing makes us more human than when we are able to share a plate of food — especially when we share the food with somebody we don’t know. Nothing has made me more feeling like a human than sitting next to a person in the slums of Haiti or Nairobi. … Most of the time, we try to speak a different language to each other, a lot of times we’re sharing a beer or a Coke or a plate of food. And that plate of food is always the start of something amazing. In these situations, I do believe that when you are able to deliver a fellow American a good, humble, hot plate of food, it’s just the beginning of sending the message: tomorrow, things will be better. Tomorrow, we will rebuild. Together we will have the resilience we need.”

(See more of our favorite moments from that speech).

Tomorrow, things will be better. It’s a dose of optimism we could all use, and here in Charlotte, chefs are using food to help deliver that same message.

Some make small but important contributions, like chef Laney Jahkel-Parrish’s bake sale outside of 300 East benefitting Classroom Central. Her fundraiser was a mini version of Lovin’ from the Oven, a bake sale with contributions from the city’s best pastry chefs. Recently, some of the city’s best chefs united to cook a pay-what-you-can dinner, inviting diners from different communities to break bread and experience that sense of unity Andrés mentions. Dinner series Soul Food Sessions has helped push a nationwide conversation on what it means to be a black fine dining chef. Tomorrow, restaurants around the city will donate portions of their checks to benefit rescue animals at the Humane Society.

Here in Charlotte, we’re not rebuilding an entire infrastructure from the ground up as the Bahamas are doing. But making this city better requires unity just the same, whether it’s ensuring all of our students have the school supplies they need or bridging gaps and creating conversation and understanding between the rich and poor.

Thanks to all of the chefs who are helping to unite the city. —Kristen Wile

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