Chef Andrew Wild wasn’t planning to become the emergency food coordinator for nearly 1,000 Valley Fire refugees when he casually strolled to the Calistoga Fairgrounds last Saturday night. But by 9:30p.m., just as he could see a glow of fire from behind Mt. St. Helena and reports of the Valley Fire started filtering in, he’d been tapped to set up meals for the ever-growing gathering of people looking for sanctuary.
“It was mayhem when I got (to the fairgrounds). They were just getting set up and there was no communication yet, no one knowing what to do, and refugees were already coming in,” he said by cellphone at 10p.m. Wednesday, just after another long day of cooking. “I just said, ‘We need to do something’,” said the local caterer and owner of Wild About Food and Drink, currently serving as Deputy Executive Chef for the relief coordination efforts in Calistoga.
Wild immediately set up a make-shift cafeteria with the few supplies they had at the Fairgrounds: A small refrigerator, a handful of pans, an eight burner stove, a prep table and a semi-functional oven. By breakfast on Sunday, he was feeding 300, by lunch it was 800, and by dinner more than 1,000. Dozens of other chefs, caterers and volunteers have since lent a hand, expanding the kitchen to a health-department approved operation that’s pretty darn impressive.
“The Red Cross people are saying this is the best food they’ve ever had at an incident,” Wild said. Which isn’t surprising considering the fact that Napa and Sonoma businesses including Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, Model Bakery, Petaluma Poultry and countless other cheesemakers, pizza bakers, and others have already stepped up, with plenty more food on the way.
Chef Tyler Florence showed up one afternoon to make macaroni and cheese, along with Michelin-starred chef Victor Scargle and countless other Wine Country toques including caterer Elaine Bell, and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone are also pitching in. The owners of Sonoma County BBQ have also been integral to the efforts, starting a crowd-funded campaign, operating their barbecue full time, and purchasing food for the kitchen.
Wild is still seeking volunteer help from anyone who can wield a knife or wipe a table, as well as donations of cooking equipment and food. He’s continuing to coordinate the kitchen operations throughout the day and well into the night. In fact, Wild said he missed his son’s sixth birthday to get the food out. “Hopefully this is a learning lesson for him that its important to help others,” he said.
Despite the continuing devastation of the fire, Wild said victims are making the best of the situation. “It’s amazing that even people who have lost everything are in good spirits. They come and sit in the dining hall with instruments and just sing,” he added.
Maybe because they’ve got full bellies of food made with the love and care of a culinary community coming together.
Want to help?
– Donate to the Sonoma County BBQ GoFundMe campaign at gofundme.com/3w46aubg
– Follow Andy’s Wild About Food and Drink Facebook page.
– Go to biteclubeats.com/help to see restaurants offering Dine and Donate offers.
Note: There are hundreds–thousands–of people helping the relief effort, and Andy is just one. I received this, and wanted to share…
The Wildcats Boosters has the other kitchen and is serving 500 people three meals a day plus snacks and drinks. This is headed up by Elly Galindo and staffed by locals. They are absolutely incredible!!