To try Sara's recipe for cold cauliflower soup with curried crabmeat, click here.
As people in the food business, we get bombarded with requests to donate our time and food to benefits. Benefits for cancer, benefits for the homeless, benefits for three legged dogs in China, benefits for the hungry (I always think it's weird to gorge yourself to help the hungry but hey, whatever it takes right?). It goes on and on. And fall is the height of benefit season, and it seems to have gotten excessive.
The idea used to be to throw a party, get some press for the cause, some press for the participating chefs and industry people, and raise some money. But there are some very dubious causes receiving money out there, and it's never clear how large a percentage of funds raised actually go to the cause being featured. Recently I was asked to do a benefit for Slow Food (really?). I am all for Slow Food, but I am not sure they need money as much as victims of natural disasters or terminal disease.
For me to participate in an event, I have to come up with amazing finger food that can be served in a setting with no running water, no heating devices, and no storage area.
I was raised to believe in giving back to my community and to the general world community, and I believe in doing so. Some events I wholeheartedly endorse. Every year for the past six years I have participated in a great all-female event to support an organization called SHARE, which helps women with ovarian and breast cancer. The money really does go directly to the cause, plus I love that there's one night every year when most of the famously rare female chefs in New York gather under one roof. In the spring, I do the Taste of the Lower East Side, which benefits the Grand Street Settlement house, an organization that has been helping economically challenged residents of the Lower East Side since 1916. I love supporting the community I work in so directly.
Some of the so-called "benefits" I have participated in seem to be more about throwing giant, self-congratulatory parties. It seems like every time some terrible event happens, everyone gets busy setting up a benefit for the victims and at the same time making sure they get more press themselves. Before you know it, rather than talking about the awful situation in Haiti or Pakistan we are talking about what delicacies such and such restaurant is serving. I also question whether it is really the best thing for my restaurant and me to be a small line on some press release. Isn't it better for my customers and for me if I stay in the restaurant and cook? Isn't that what my business is about?
For me to participate in an event, I have to come up with amazing finger food that can be served in a setting with no running water, no heating devices, and no storage area. Increasingly I am being asked to bring 700 to 2000 portions of said food, which should also represent my restaurant, me as a chef, and maybe the democratic ideal as a whole. I have to prepare it in my restaurant (taking away resources from the day's normal activity), pack it up, haul it over to the venue, stash it under a table, and then reassemble it so it looks beautiful. In order to do this I need to bring one or two cooks with me (who need to be paid because they are not getting anything out of it) so I can stand there and smile and interact with people who have paid a lot of money to be there. One thing I learned early on was that however long it takes you to make the dish, the dish better be easy to serve.