Restaurant critic—and ultimate Charm City foodie—Richard Gorelick got involved with The Baltimore Station in November 2015, when he was asked to serve as a judge for one of the veteran-support organization’s cookoff fundraisers. But even after the winner was announced and donations were tallied, he felt that his work there wasn’t finished.
“Once you walk into the facility, you immediately want to commit to helping out,” says Gorelick, a former Sun food writer, who contributed to Baltimore’s 2017 “Best Restaurants” package. “And sometimes, a simple idea is the best idea.”
Last February, Gorelick decided to use his connections in the local food community to implement a new outreach program benefitting The Baltimore Station—a residential treatment facility in Federal Hill which aims to help homeless veterans transition into the workforce. The result was Chefs4Vets, a monthly dinner series that brings in noteworthy chefs to prepare three-course meals for the center’s residents.
Now celebrating its one-year anniversary, Gorelick is enthusiastic about continuing to form relationships between the local veteran and food communities: “It’s been so easy for me,” he says. “All I have to do is ask, and the chefs can’t say yes quickly enough.”
Gorelick says that the visiting chefs usually keep their dishes approachable, while still giving residents a taste of how they cook at their restaurants. The inaugural dinner was prepared by former Alewife executive chef Chad Wells, who now oversees operations for Victoria Restaurant Group. Wells served Maryland crab soup, bone-in short ribs, and cheesecake with fresh berries—a menu which Gorelick says set the bar pretty high.
“It’s always great when a chef hits a home run,” he says. “We haven’t seen anything short of a solid double, but boy, when every plate comes back to the kitchen completely empty that’s how you know how appreciative the veterans are.”
Since then, the program has grown to host a stellar lineup of participating chefs including Brian Mahon of Wine Market Bistro, John Bedingfield of La Food Marketa, Matt and Allison Robicelli of Trinacria Italian Cafe, and Joey Vanoni of mobile kitchen Pizza di Joey.
Vanoni, a U.S. Navy veteran himself, says that his experience serving up pies and sharing stories with the residents hit particularly close to home.
“It might have been during a different time, but I’ve been in their shoes,” says Vanoni, who was on active duty overseas from 2003-2009. “Everybody walks a different path, but as long as we’re there to help each other, it works out okay.”
To add to the allure of the evening, The Baltimore Station polishes silverware, covers tables in white linens, and even brings in a barber to give the veterans haircuts each month.
“Some people get it into their heads that this is the only time the veterans get a good meal, which is far from the truth,” Gorelick says. “It’s not about providing a meal. It’s about providing a special evening where they can feel like they’re preparing themselves for life outside of The Baltimore Station.”
The next Chefs4Vets dinner will take place on Monday, February 27, with chef Rey Eugenio of Points South Latin Kitchen taking the helm. Gorelick says that he’s overwhelmed at the interest from local restaurants thus far, and he hopes to keep that momentum going.
“I’ve always said the local restaurant community is exactly the right size,” he says. “It’s not so big that people stop knowing each other, but it’s big enough to make beautiful things happen.”