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José Andrés will be the first to acknowledge that his part in the nationwide Dine Out for the Gulf Coast fundraiser amounts to, essentially, a “little gesture.” Four of his Penn Quarter restaurants in the THINKfoodGROUP — Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, and Cafe Atlantico —will donate the proceeds from a selected dish that is, according to the official press release, “inspired by ingredients native to the Gulf Coast.”
The money won’t amount to much more than “a few hundred to a few thousand” dollars, depending on the restaurant, the celebrity chef tells Y&H. “The way we do it is we go and we write a check that sometimes is more than the money you raised,” Andrés adds.
But the three-day event from June 10-12 is more than just a fundraiser, Andrés says. As conceived by Jimmy Galle, owner of the respected Gulfish that supplies celebrity chefs with seafood, Dine Out for the Gulf Coast is also a chance to talk about the importance of protecting our food supplies.
“I think he’s (creating) a moment to engage in conversation with our waiters, with our cooks, with the guests who come to the restaurants,” Andres says about Galle. “At the end of the day, it’s food, and hopefully restaurants and chefs and food writers and all of us, we are the people who have to be the high priests of protecting all that food and keeping everyone aware that, if we don’t have this food, we are nothing.”
As he often does, Andrés is looking at the broader picture. The environmental crisis in the Gulf didn’t just materialize in April when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, unleashing untold thousands of barrels of oil into the water.
“Obviously, with something like this, now we can blame one person that handles this in a bad way, one company, but in the end, the problem is not one company. The problem is humanity itself,” says Andrés who occasionally buys products from the Gulf, whether oysters or shrimp or even stone crabs from Florida.
“This is a terrible accident that only brings a lot of awareness,” the chef adds. “But I think the big thing here — the big thing here — is only to [remind] ourselves, ‘Let’s be careful in the way we are living, because if we keep living like this, nothing is going to be sustainable.’ Maybe we will not see the end, but if we are not careful, in one, two, three, four, five generations, the food chain may be very different than the food chain we are used to today.”
Andrés’ restaurants are not the only local ones participating in Dine Out for the Gulf Coast. Over at Johnny’s Half Shell on Capitol Hill, Ann Cashion and John Fulchino, two long-time proponents of Gulf Coast cooking and culture,are also taking part in the event.