A blockbuster one-night collaboration between two of Chicago’s busiest restaurants, Andros Taverna and Kasama, will bring together Greek and Filipino flavors to benefit charity. The two restaurants, both owned by married couples, will create a special menu next month to benefit Vibrant Emotional Health and its suicide prevention efforts.
The dinner is the organization’s major fundraiser, and a fall 2021 event raised $50,000 at Michelin-starred Oriole. Organizers hope they can generate $100,000 for this year’s event, planned for Monday, May 2 at Andros Taverna in Logan Square. Tickets for this decadent event are $350 per person.
The crew from Kasama, an Eater Best New Restaurant — an all-day cafe that’s part French bakery and modern Filipino restaurant — has found shelter at Andros Taverna. Genie Kwon says they’ve hung out at the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays, which amounts to their weekend. That’s how Kwon and husband Tim Flores were introduced to management at Andros Taverna. Hsing Chen, like Kwon, is a pastry chef with experience at Michelin-star restaurants (Chen worked at French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley, Kwon’s worked at Oriole and Eleven Madison Park in N.Y.). Beyond the dinner, the two are selling a limited edition pastry box filled with their sweet specialties. Event organizer Rebecca Friedlander, describes it as the perfect pick me up for the day after the extravagant dinner, called Pausing for the Cause.
“It’s kind of funny, Kasama is our breakfast headquarters,” Andros Taverna chef Doug Psaltis says. “Andros has become Kasama’s late-night dinner and place to go at night.”
The connections stretch even deeper as veteran sommelier Aaron McManus works at Oriole, where Kwon and Flores worked before opening Kasama. McManus, who will volunteer his time for the event, consulted on Kasama’s wine program. He’s also Friedlander’s partner.
Mental health is an important topic in the world of hospitality as it’s a public-facing job with stress and many workers lack health care resources; most restaurants do not offer insurance coverage. Vibrant offers crisis hotline services and other wellbeing resources. The non-profit, which has been around for more than five decades, started in the Empire State as the Mental Health Association of New York City, Friedlander says it began taking a closer looking at the issue in the restaurant industry after Anthony Bourdain’s death in 2018: “People related to him, he was raw, unedited, engaging, and passionate — all these qualities in people that we admire,” she says.
The money from the event can help staff a suicide prevention call center with an extra staff member. Friedlander felt the impact additionally as a friend died by suicide the month before Bourdain’s death.
COVID conditions have made the need for better resources apparent to Psaltis who reflected on stressful times in his professional life staging at restaurants in Europe, seeing staff show up on three-month contracts: “Cooks were nervous wrecks,” he says.
Friedlander flashes back to March 2020 when Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended indoor dining to slow the spread of COVID. Restaurant workers began losing their livelihoods and their hopes. No one should be surprised to see an uptick in depression.
The mentality was to push through challenges without giving mind and body a chance to recover. Psaltis says there’s been a shift from hiding feelings to creating a more open environment that encourages sharing, and that’s a positive starting point in addressing mental health concerns.
Friedlander hopes May’s dinner brings enough success that they can plan two dinners a year. She’s also hopeful other cities will copy Chicago’s model and host their own events. For Chicagoans, a unique dinner like this hasn’t happened often, so don’t sleep on tickets.