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Two months into sitting idle while his restaurant was shut down due to Oregon’s mandated shelter-in-place order, Gregory Gourdet grabbed his knives to join a rotating cast of chefs to cook meals for the needy.
The top Portland chef, along with more than half a dozen chefs from The Nines Hotel, prepared 600 meals a day at Blanchet House, a Northwest Portland nonprofit that provides meals for those in need. Cooking for Blanchet House, Gourdet says, gave him a way to get outside of himself after quarantine.
“I felt like I reached a point in the pandemic where my desire to help overcame my fear,” Gourdet says. “As we’ve gotten more adjusted to living like this and safety precautions and understanding COVID better, I’ve felt safer about going outside and leaving lockdown and quarantine to be of service.”
Like many in Oregon’s rich culinary circles across the state, restaurants, chefs and wineries have refocused their missions during the pandemic to serve not only their communities and regulars but those in need and on the frontlines, who work in medical facilities and in health care. Here are a few of those stories.
An Emotional Ride
The group of chefs and Gourdet, culinary director of Departure Restaurant & Lounge at the Nines Hotel, have been working two and a half hours, twice a week (for safety reasons), to assess what’s been donated over the weekend, coming up with a meal plan and cooking 600 portions.
The work is rewarding, Gourdet says, and taps into your flexibility. But the communities and people he serves are never far from his mind, long after his walks back through Old Town to get home.
“I’m most affected by the people who look like they’re on the edge of having a normal face in society,” Gourdet says. “I imagine myself in that place. I’ve had to be frugal during the pandemic; if I had to be frugal to a point where I couldn’t feed myself, how would I feel? It’s very emotional.” Gourdet is far from the only chef to donate time, labor or food to those out of a job or in need.
Food for Frontline Workers
In conjunction with the Portland chapter of the national nonprofit Frontline Foods, more than 100 Portland-area restaurants have worked to send food to nurses and doctors across the region, one takeout container at a time.
At the end of June, for the fourth time during the pandemic, Northeast Portland’s Amalfi’s Restaurant packaged up another 50 to-go boxes with lasagna, linguine alfredo, and spaghetti and meatballs. For third-generation owner Kiauna Floyd, the work Frontline Foods has been doing for both hospital workers and the restaurant industry has been a “blessing.”
“For us to have that partnership with them has been amazing,” Floyd says. “They’ve been an olive branch extended to restaurants right now during this hard time. For them to support this bleeding industry has been paramount. It’s been really, really, really paramount.”
Frontline Foods, which partnered with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit from globally celebrated chef Jose Andres, essentially “buys” meals from local restaurants using private donations, helping cover food costs and supporting staff, and delivering the hot food to participating hospitals in the area. By the end of May, Frontline Foods PDX had donated more than 10,000 meals to nurses and doctors at 10 health care facilities in the Portland area, including Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center, Laurelhurst Village, Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center and OHSU.
Sending meals to frontline workers has felt like being able to do their part and extend appreciation to those putting themselves at risk, Floyd says.
“Our hearts are pouring out there not only for those affected by COVID but people working and putting their lives on the line, putting their safety and risk on the line,” Floyd says. “Nurses, doctors, medical assistants — they’re risking not only themselves but their families. The sacrifices I’ve heard, too, of those on the frontlines in hospitals, that they’ve had to quarantine themselves away from their families for an extended period of time — I couldn’t imagine.”
A Case for Community Support
An hour southwest of Portland in the Willamette Valley wine country, a similar fundraising collaboration was underway. At the end of June, 32 wineries representing the Yamhill-Carlton wine-growing region joined together to launch a collaborative program to support the Yamhill Carlton Storehouse, a nonprofit food pantry that helps feed 80 to 90 families a month.
The format was simple: Each winery donated numerous bottles, all valued around $50 each, of their own renowned Oregon pinot noir to build $500 region-showcasing cases of wines from a dozen different wineries. All of the proceeds from the sales would be donated to the Storehouse and, if completely sold out, could help fund the food pantry for a year.
While numerous ideas were tossed around, it ultimately came down to basic needs, Yamhill-Carlton Winegrowers Association board member and Atticus Wine owner Ximena Orrego says. “We had conversations about different things, but it all boiled down to, ‘We need to help our community with essential needs,’ and food is as basic as it comes,” Orrego says. “It came to the top of the list because of the immediate, basic need that our community has.”
After a couple of weeks, the AVA had already sold between one-third and half of the cases filled out with bottles from wineries like Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery, Big Table Farm, WillaKenzie Estate, Elk Cove Vineyards and Ken Wright Cellars, among others.
“Their budget is not huge, and there’s a lot of people who donate their time and magic, as I call it,” Orrego says. “Us being able to donate these funds, it’ll be really amazing … it’s too early to see what next steps would be. We’re working on lots of different projects, but this has potential based on the response we’re seeing.”
Ways to Help:
Oregonians looking to pitch in to these avenues of COVID relief may:
- Donate money to Frontline Foods
- Purchase a case of wine from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Wine cases are limited and are only available for purchase in Oregon via curbside pickup at Carlton Cellars or shipping within the state.
- Donate time to help cook at Blanchet House, especially as more people transition to going back to work.