Within weeks of Hurricane Katrina's attack on the lives of Mississippians, Chefs for Humanity Executive Director Debra Rainey was in the area to assess needs so that the non-profit could begin its response. Since then, she's kept a journal of sorts that you will want to read by clicking the OntheRail link at chefsforhumanity.com. The monthly archives are there, explaining how they fed thousands for weeks and how they're planning to return for the holidays.
Chef Cat Cora contributed frequently to the journal—Sept. 14: "The levee broke in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina blew away the Gulf Coast. It literally looks like a nuclear bomb dropped on these cities. ... We are working 16-hour days but I feel so rewarded that we have been able to put value to this crisis. This crisis is why I founded Chefs For Humanity, why CFH management came on board, and why these fantastic chefs have come to support this community. We need your help to help these good people."
Two local events later this week provide an opportunity to help. All proceeds from the sold-out Iron Chef November at the Everyday Gourmet on Friday night go to Katrina relief, as do those from Thursday's Chefs for Humanity Fund-raising Dinner and Silent Auction at the Golden Moon VIP Room, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $125. Call 866-44PEARL. Cat Cora hosts the event, which includes a silent auction and a seven-course meal prepared by a stellar gathering of local and regional chefs.
What are the goals Chefs for Humanity has in relation to Hurricane Katrina?
Our ultimate goal is to work with the Governor's Relief Fund to rebuild the Coast. Long term, especially on the cultural end, we want to help begin to rebuild in 2006. Once these cities have come back, have been rebuilt, the people of Biloxi, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Long Beach, all along the Coast, will need to rebuild their culture—their archives, museums, restaurants, little theaters, farmers' markets. We want to bring back the Coast in a positive way.
What is Chefs for Humanity?
I founded the national non-profit organization after the tsunami. I felt so helpless and wanted to do more. I felt like I was getting dead ends from the large organizations and didn't want to just write a check. There was no chefs' organization like Doctors Without Borders. I had wanted to do this for years and felt this is the time. I didn't want another tragedy to come without being able to help.
Chefs for Humanity planned to spend time building its infrastructure, but when Katrina happened, we couldn't ignore it. This is my home state. Actually it was at a good point in our work on the infrastructure, so we could make an impact.
I've got a great group of people to work with, but we're always looking for more. We want chefs and culinary people to be a part, as well as those who have an affinity for food and wine to be a part. It's a win-win. You're around what you love to do, even as a hobby, and you get to roll up your sleeves and help. We won't be just a relief organization, though. We plan to work on hunger, nutrition or cancer or whatever needs arise. This is for humanity.
As a native Mississippian, how has being on the Gulf Coast made you feel?
I think about it all the time. I have family there, friends there who've lost their homes. It's just clear land and rubble—it's very emotional. When I'm down there next week, it'll be the same. It's terrible. Some have no homes, no jobs. You feel overwhelmed. There's only so much one can do, but all of it helps. What I saw will always stay with me forever. I know Mississippi is very strong; we know how to persevere. We come from good stock.
What future plans does Chefs for Humanity have to raise funds?
We'll have another signed chef coats' auction. We sold about half that we had on eBay, raised $11,000 or $12,000 for UNICEF. They put those funds towards the children of Katrina. That's the first domestic initiative they've ever done. In 2006 we'll do this again. We'll auction some of the coats at the Pearl River Resort—many of my friends from L.A., the Napa Valley, all over, helped with those.