Langlois Culinary Crossroads (www.langloisnola.com) chef and owner Amy Sins started a Facebook group (Louisiana Flood Outreach — New Orleans Cooks) to provide meals to Baton Rouge area flood victims and evacuees. The efforts attracted chefs, restaurant workers, public relations professionals and restaurateurs to collaborate on an ongoing effort, which has provided more than 100,000 meals. Sins spoke with Gambit about the effort.
How did you organize the relief effort?
Sins: I may have just been the girl with the first idea ... but there's no way this could have happened without a team of people jumping on board to help out. There was such overwhelming generosity from the restaurant community, chefs and restaurant owners. I ended up having to start a separate (private) page just for the chefs we were working with because the need was so great. ... You start the spark and then the fire happens.
My house was on the levee breach of the 17th Street Canal during (Hurricane) Katrina, and I think like many New Orleanians, every person you know was touched — whether they were touched by the water or just touched by the disaster — and I see that same thing here. ...
There's a point where it's challenging to accept people helping you. You want to do it on your own, but no matter who you are, you can get blindsided by something and you need a support system in place so that you can get past it. Then you become the support system for the next guy.
What struck you most about doing disaster relief as a chef?
S: Being on the other side of such a massive natural disaster is eye-opening. You realize why certain things happen the way they do and why certain procedures are in place. It reinforced to me how important the restaurant community is to emergency outreach.
I was crazy about being super careful about food safety and making sure all food came from a verified restaurant kitchen. In a restaurant, we're worried about getting the food to the plate and making sure it tastes delicious ... but when you're looking at a scale of 3,000 meals a day with no electricity, no refrigeration, how is that going to happen? So as much as (people from Louisiana) wanted to feed people and make them feel better, I kept telling people, if you're just the average girl or guy, bring granola bars; bring things that are prepackaged, because then I can guarantee that it's going to get to somebody. ... I noticed that prepackaged foods were what we needed the most the first few days.
As much as (chefs) want our knives and our fire and we want to travel, that's not always what the need is. The need might be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We trucked 9,600 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on giant trucks through five feet of water. We couldn't cook there.
How can people help?
S: I've been trying to do as much as I can to help Second Harvest (Food Bank). Another thing that this brought to my attention is that, yes, people are helping and willing to give immediately after a disaster, but when we think about where we were after (Hurricane) Katrina — three months, six months, for some people two or three years down the road — the need was still there. For Second Harvest to be able to provide meals into the future is really important, especially after the Baton Rouge food bank flooded. I hope I have facilitated some relationships where chefs, distributors and volunteers can start coordinating directly with Second Harvest and keep the momentum going through the rest of the year.