In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma—which recently caused catastrophic flooding in Southeast Texas and the Florida Keys, respectively—the local food community has been doing its part to pitch in with various fundraisers and donation drives.
“We wanted to do whatever we could on whatever scale big or small,” says Jesse Sandlin, executive chef at The Outpost American Tavern in Federal Hill, which hosted a disaster relief brunch last weekend. “After Harvey, and with Irma coming through, it really hit me that this could be a major national disaster—potentially even bigger than Katrina because of the two hurricanes happening back to back.”
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Sandlin is one of many local chefs who will be coming together at Fork & Wrench in Canton to participate in a monthly dinner series supporting the cause. At each event, new Fork & Wrench chef Corey Laub will battle it out with two other area chefs and a portion of all ticket sales will go to hurricane victims.
Columbia-born Laub—who only recently returned to the local dining scene after spending nearly a decade working in other cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C.—says that he, like Sandlin, had a willingness to help others in need.
“In this industry, we have a want to help people and make them happy however we can,” he says. “It all goes along with our hospitality drive.”
The inaugural competition on September 27 will pit Laub, Sandlin, and Chef Brian Lavin of Gnocco against each other. Each installment of the series will feature four courses (one from each of the chefs, followed by dessert), and diners will vote for their favorite dish after the final course. Proceeds will benefit the Austin Disaster Relief Network for the first dinner, and future installments will support victims in Florida.
Another unique element of the series is that each dinner will focus on a different local protein, with the first highlighting pork from Catoctin Mountain Farms in Frederick County. Although he is still perfecting his dish, Laub is eager to make use of the local hogs, as well as feature fall produce like squash and apples from area farms.
The monthly events continue with a battle showcasing beef on Wednesday, October 25, in which chef Corey will be up against chef Jason Ambrose of Salt Tavern in Upper Fells Point, and chef Andrew Weinzirl of The Brewer’s Art in Mt. Vernon. Rounding out the series will be a Thanksgiving-themed turkey competition between Laub, chef Jay Rohlfing of Cunningham’s in Towson, and chef David Thomas of Ida B’s Table—which officially opens downtown next week.
A former Top Chef contestant, Sandlin is certainly no stranger to the realm of chef competitions. But she says that, in this instance, she is most excited to be cooking amongst her peers.
“Even though it is a competition, we’re all friends,” she says. “We all want to encourage each other. We all have a lot of mutual admiration and respect for each other. When you don’t get to collaborate with other chefs on a day-to-day basis, it makes it fun.”