In the elegant confines of Le Bernardin restaurant in midtown Manhattan, amid the tinkle of Champagne flutes, New York's culinary community once again committed to salving the wounds of Sept. 11. Some of the Big Apple's most serious kitchen talent announced on Dec. 10 that they would participate in "Chefs Across America," a national campaign of culinary barnstorming.
"The idea grew out of the ashes of September 11," said project founder Mickey Bakst, maître d' of Tribute restaurant, near Detroit. He said that his goal is to generate $3 million from 10 January dinners at participating restaurants across the country. The series will culminate in a final gala dinner, featuring all the participating chefs, on Jan. 28 at the Regent Wall Street hotel, just blocks from New York's Ground Zero.
The lineup of Gotham's gustatory hotshots includes Daniel Boulud of Daniel, Claudia Fleming of Gramercy Tavern, Tom Colicchio of Gramercy Tavern and Craft, Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, Rocco DiSpirito of Union Pacific, Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit and Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill. Numerous others -- including French chef Alain Ducasse, Mario Batali of Babbo and Michael Lomanaco of the destroyed Windows on the World -- have pledged to join the campaign, but were absent for the public announcement. A total of 40 chefs nationwide will take part.
This crack force will fan out across the United States on Jan. 14 and Jan. 21, with groups of three or four temporarily taking over the kitchens of restaurants in nine cities: Bluepoint in Atlanta, Spago Beverly Hills, Radius in Boston, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Tribute in the Detroit area, Norman's in Miami, Gary Danko in San Francisco and Citronelle in Washington, D.C. For a complete schedule and reservation information, check www.chefsacrossamerica.com.
Chefs Across America will contribute 100 percent of the money it raises to three charities: the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, which provides aid to the families of food-service workers who were victims of the World Trade Center attack; City Harvest, a New York City charity that has been feeding disaster-relief workers and displaced residents; and the Salvation Army Mobile Kitchen Program, which maintains a fleet of kitchen vessels that are dispatched to disaster sites across the country when needed.
The Ford Motor Company is providing primary financial support for Chefs Across America, allowing the event to donate all proceeds. "Ford's top executives are my clientele," explained Bakst. "We said we wanted to get the top New York people and get them out to the top restaurants in the country. And Ford said, 'Here's the money.'"
"[We] are proud to join the nation's leading chefs to support the victims of the terrorist attacks," said Ford COO Nick Scheele. "We appreciate the tremendous commitment by the nation's chefs and restaurateurs as they work to make a difference."
Chefs Across America is also supported by a Who's Who of food, wine and lifestyle companies, including American Express Publishing, Beringer Vineyards, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Northwest Airlines, Shafer Vineyards, the TV Food Network, Veuve Clicquot and M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator.