Saturday evening I get an email from Gordon Hamersley. Would I like to blog about the Chefs Stand for Haiti dinner at Rialto the next night? This was not a difficult decision — the cause is so stellar, the chefs are so fantastic, the idea is so fun — no contest. So Sunday June 6, I drive through torrential rain to Rialto. There, the kitchen is full of some of the best and most celebrated chefs in Boston — Gordon, of course, and Jody Adams of Rialto, Frank McClelland of L’Espalier, Ken Oringer of Clio and Toro, Jamie Bissonette of Toro and Coppa, Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother, Steven Brand and Susan Regis of Upstairs on the Square, Tim and Nancy Cushman of O Ya, Dante deMagistris of Dante and Il Casale, Louis DiBicarra of Sel de la Terre, Joanne Chang of Flour and Myers & Chang, Andy Husbands of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel, Rich Valente of Legal Sea Foods, Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Table, Patricia Yeo of Ginger Park, and Ron Abel and Nookie Postal of Fenway Park.
The mood is jovial, the banter quick, the connections those close and vital ones that bind chefs together no matter how short the time or strong the competition. Jody Adams explains it best: “We didn’t quite expect them all to say yes,” she says. She, Gordon and Andy were contacted in the winter after the devastating earthquake in Haiti by Billy Shore of Share Our Strength and by Partners in Health. “Could the chefs help.” Chefs and restaurants are known for their charitable work. But this query was unusual because of the urgency and the dedication of those involved. And the response was immediate. So a winter tragedy led to an early summer feast.
The kitchen was humming with chefs working quickly against a tight deadline to feed 91 guests who had paid $1,000 a plate. But the conversation flowed, showing the tight bonds that bind Boston’s chef community. And the appetizers were gorgeous. Regis and Brand worked to on boudin blanc with topped with rhubarb from a friend’s Marblehead garden and garlic crisps. Maiden prepared hoe cakes to go with lamb crepinettes with a pistou of basil and black walnuts. Yeo fried foie gras and short rib dumplings to be served with a spicy chili sauce. Davis finished house-smoked duck with a rhubarb chutney on pumpkin bread. DeMagistris patiently pressed 200 servings of veal tonnato paninis, an irresistible Italianate version of grilled cheese.
There was urban gardening: Bissonnette’s green pea and sheep’s milk ricotta with lardo was garnished with sweet cicely from his garden next to Toro in the South End. And rural farming: All the greens for the dinner to follow (by the Rialto team) was from McClelland’s Hamilton farm. And he also provided beautiful French breakfast radishes with sweet butter and salt.
Hamersley passed out succulent lamb chops with an apriot jam. Cushman stirred a spicy Thai tomato and chanterelle soup, musing that at O Ya, he might have added lobster. Oringer composes a delicate oyster Royale (oyster cream with coconut milk, sake, and thyme) on shrimp toasts. Abell passes around lobster rolls, quickly snapped up by the chefs “Only the Red Sox could afford lobster,” one quips.
As the chefs worked, guests begin to filter in, eager to meet them. “This is so much fun in here,” says one as the stainless-steel restaurant kitchen began to resemble a house party.
In Rialto’s bar, Jim Ansara, formerly of Shawmut Construction who has been working in Haiti as well as raising money, talks proudly of a Partners in Health teaching hospital that’s about to begin in construction. “This would be challenging here,” he says. In devastated Haiti, “it’s really challenging.”
As the guests take their seats, and begin to look at the Rialto menu of a light summer vegetable antipasto and organic chicken, nibbling on breads brought out in huge wooden baskets, Adams introduces the chefs. Then she gives a benediction of sorts, the reason that chefs came together to help others in a time of ongoing need.
Quoting Gandhi, she says: “There are people so hungry that they cannot see God except in the form of bread.”
Breaking bread together to help those in need: It’s a beautiful thing.
NEXT: An auction followed the dinner. Find out about the dream venues and the chef matchups, plus how much money was raised!