The pandemic has forced many restaurant workers to reevaluate their community roles. The public health crisis and the many pivots that followed have affected the restaurant industry, diners, and not for profits alike. Restaurant workers face furloughs and the challenges of not being able to serve customers inside their venues. Customers feel caged in at home without the privilege of supporting their favorite restaurants on site. Meanwhile, not for profits are changing fundraising techniques in the absence of ballroom galas and other large gatherings.
A shining example of these changes comes from one of Chicago’s most high-profile chefs. Stephanie Izard now chairs the board at a new organization called Equality Should Be Normal. The group works to eradicate anti-Black racism with efforts like arranging field trips to Washington, D.C. for school kids to offer them opportunities that wouldn’t normally be available. Last week, the group served 1,000 Thanksgiving meals to those in need. On Tuesday, the organization officially opened a community center in Washington Park where staff offers free resources like college prep, mental health services, and point to distributed food, clothing, and other items. Read more about the South Side project on Block Club Chicago.
The chef behind Girl & the Goat is dipping into her network to assemble an all-star cast of chefs to raise money for the Barbara Murphy Community Resource Center. They’ve organized a fundraiser on Wednesday, December 9. Names like Top Chef alums Carla Hall, Kristen Kish, and Chicago-native Joe Flamm (Spiaggia, Rose Mary) will join Marcus Samuelsson and James Beard Award-nominated Chicago chef Brian Jupiter (Frontier, Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods).
“It’s going to be a night out, but at home,” Izard says. “There will be music, food, and hopefully some laughs, and meanwhile we’re all raising money for a great, new organization.”
Attendees will pickup a meal kit the day before the event at Little Goat Diner and then assemble in front of their screens the day after and log into Zoom. During a video stream, Izard and her chef friends will prepare a meal using the kit’s ingredients. The event also features musical performances from Hamilton’s Miguel Cervantes and gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds.
Izard says Equality Should Be Normal’s work has inspired her, and she’s forged a big sister relationship with the group’s founder, Romel Murphy. She met him only a few months ago during the group’s inaugural event which celebrated Juneteenth. It appears Izard’s taking mental notes, as she says she would like to expand her charitable efforts with a focus on helping youth.
These charitable efforts come in difference shapes and sizes. In Avondale, Beverly Kim of Michelin-starred Parachute says her restaurant will offer free meals from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays all throughout December at her sibling restaurant, Wherewithall. They’re teaming up with the Lee Initiative and Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar in Bridgeport which started free meals in November.
The pandemic and George Floyd protests have forced many industry members to reevaluate their presence in their communities, Another chef, Rachel Tumerman — she last worked for Hogsalt Hospitality — started her own group, Chef Friends For Justice. She was furloughed after only two weeks on the job in late spring. She’s not interested in returning to restaurants during the pandemic and has instead switched gears.
“It’s just more or less I just was trying to figure out how I can do more,” Tumerman says. “I felt I wasn’t doing more for the betterment of the world. Cooking for rich, white people and making rich, white people more money doesn’t seem like a great option. I took a step back.”
So Tumerman began making connections and reached out to Flamm out of the blue. Flamm planned to open a new restaurant in 2020 in Fulton Market, but the pandemic has postponed the opening. He was eager to introduce Tumerman to Izard, who then introduced Murphy and Equality Should Be Normal.
“It’s like a little, tiny seed planted and blossomed into this beautiful relationship,” Tumerman says of Izard and Murphy. “I’m really stoked to see how they work.”
Tumerman is a Chicago an industry veteran who held an underground dinner series and wants to continues to build her group. She’s a one-person crew trying to take on issues like systemic racism, misogyny, and food waste. She describes herself as a tiny, queer Jewish lady and she’s looking for funding and volunteers from other like-minded members of the food industry to further her group’s mission. Check out the group’s website for details.
Meanwhile, for those interested in Equality Should Be Normal’s gala, meal kits are on sale for $200 with enough food for two. They’re taking orders until Saturday, December 5 on Tock.