Cooking in Solidarity

New Orleanians know what it means to have an entire community brought low by disaster, but they also know the feeling of gratitude when others help that community. So with the experience of Hurricane Katrina volunteerism still powerfully evocative, a group of hospitality industry leaders hit the road to help Joplin, Mo., the city that suffered the worst tornado in modern American history this past May.

Dubbed “Three Chefs, One Mission” and led by the Taste Buds, the management group behind the Zea Rotisserie & Grill chain and other restaurants, the event was essentially a free Louisiana food and music festival staged in a Joplin park to express solidarity with the community and give residents a break from the hard work of recovery.

“We know what it’s like to be in a situation where you’ve lost everything and we know the importance of being able to lift spirits,” said Greg Reggio, one of the Taste Buds.

New Orleans has been reaching out to other communities in need lately.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu established “NOLA Pay it Forward,” a fund administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation and designed to help people who were impacted by Mississippi River flooding this spring. Also in May, the Taste Buds group made a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to feed hundreds people in the wake of tornados in that area.

A wide array of local businesses supported the “Three Chefs, One Mission” project, from seafood distributors and restaurants to travel companies and sound equipment providers. The team arrived in Joplin with a caravan of trucks carrying everything they would need to put on the event, including a portable music stage and outdoor kitchens.

Gary Darling, another owner in the Taste Buds group, said the point was to help rejuvenate the spirits of people working their way through the travails of disaster recovery and the other volunteers there serving them. Based on the response of some locals, it seems the mission was accomplished.

“Seeing Louisiana not just here in spirit, but physically here, it brings a tear to your eye,” local resident Jennifer McDonald told the Joplin Globe, the local newspaper in the devastated city.


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