Puerto rico government

Chicago chefs turn to fundraising for Puerto Rico

A week after raising $110,000 to support victims of Ethiopia’s humanitarian crisis, more than 30 of Chicago’s top chefs have quickly turned to aid in flood-ravaged Puerto Rico, proving tireless in their charitable efforts .

“They’re not just chefs, they’re humanitarians,” says Billy Ocasio, executive director of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

Chicago chefs cook for Puerto Rico is the latest fundraiser from Green City Market Affiliate Chefs who raised money for Tigray and Ukraine. Ocasio says raising even $50,000 would help support World Central Kitchen’s campaign to help victims of Hurricane Fiona. To date, 30 chefs, including Art Smith (La Réunion), Paul Virant (Vistro Prime, Gaijin), and Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde), have registered to cook a dish for the event scheduled for Wednesday, September 28 at the Humboldt Museum. Park. .

It’s a quick turnaround for many chefs who volunteered at the Chicago Chefs Cook for Tigray event on Sept. 21. While many are also taking part in the Puerto Rican, event fatigue is setting in for many as Chicago Gourmet followed the weekend. A labor shortage for restaurants makes rest even more valuable. Charity events are a chore for restaurants trying to survive the pandemic. Some chefs say they weren’t sure they could get involved so quickly in the wake of the last event.

Ocasio served as a city councilman for Chicago’s 26th Ward, before leaving politics in 2013 to better establish the museum. He dines regularly at Piccolo Sogno and is friends with chef Tony Priolo. Priolo, with the help of his friends at Green City Market (including chef Sarah Stegner, Paramount Events’ Jodi Fyfe and market board member Darren Gest), spearheaded the charity events for Ethiopia and for the victims of the war in Ukraine. The museum plans to open a restaurant for breakfast and lunch next year, and Ocasio sought Priolo’s advice. During this process, Ocasio donated the museum for future events. Priolo accepted the offer. After seeing the energy at last week’s event, Ocasio said it was important to get funds to Puerto Rico immediately.

“It’s fresh in people’s minds, people want to help and not only that, you have these people on the island of Puerto Rico who still don’t know when they’re getting electricity; they still need generators,” he says. “You look at the island, five years later, there are still houses using blue tarps to cover their roofs.

Ocasio grew up in Humboldt Park and has family in Puerto Rico who were affected. His mother-in-law lives in a housing complex for the elderly, whose intermittent power has just been restored a few days ago. The island’s power grid is still damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the 2019 earthquake. Ocasio scoffs at the federal government’s pledge of $5.5 billion in funds to repair the grid (FEMA performed emergency repairs in 2018). Ocasio says the feds haven’t done enough; his lasting memory is former President Donald Trump casually throwing packets of paper towels to a crowd while visiting the island.

Currently, the Chicago Museum hosts an art exhibit featuring the largest collection of Puerto Rican art outside of the island. The pieces are on loan from the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, which has been closed since 2020 after the hurricane and earthquake. Officials had hoped to reopen next year, but are now reassessing their plans after the latest natural disaster. Fortunately, shipping some of their larger pieces to Chicago proved to be a silver lining in protecting these artifacts. Ocasio hopes to eventually channel the aid to Ponce.

Chef Cely Rodriguez of Jibarito Stop in Pilsen is the only Puerto Rican restaurant on the lineup. It’s rare to see Puerto Rican representation in a lineup of chefs with Michelin-starred restaurants or the James Beard Awards. Ocasio says he wishes there were more, but also notes that many of these Puerto Rican restaurants are family owned. They are even more tired than other restaurants due to a lack of resources and cannot afford to donate a few thousand dollars worth of food to a cause.

Another Puerto Rican participant is Fox Chicago anchor Sylvia Perez, who hosts the event. Ocasio also tapped Yvonne Cadiz-Kim, whose closed restaurant in Bucktown called Belly Shack combined Puerto Rican and Korean flavors (the latter a nod to her husband, chef Bill Kim).

Last week, the museum hosted the Ethiopian fundraiser, which was a success in the eyes of the event’s chief organizer Tigist Reda (Demera). They sold 240 tickets out of 300. Although a rousing speech by chef Erick Williams (Virtue) raised $14,000 during the silent auction, the final total was about half of the $200,000 goal of Reda.

Ocasio says he has struggled to fundraise for black and brown communities. “There is a bias when it comes to people of color,” he says. Media coverage is a problem, but he argues that chefs aren’t focusing on racial divides or politics — many in the culinary community are apparently willing to help whenever they can.

“It’s not just about power, it’s about medicine, it’s about health care,” Ocasio says. “So many people are trying to do the right thing”

Chicago Chefs Cook for Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 28, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division Street. Tickets ($155) are available on the museum website.