Chicago Chefs Cook, the seemingly tireless group of local hospitality leaders who have raised significant sums of money for charitable causes in Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Puerto Rico, has once again proved its movement has serious legs. Its latest fundraiser, held Monday, March 20, at Avli on the Park, brought in $100,000 in donations to support survivors of two powerful earthquakes that hit both Syria and Turkey in early February, according to a rep.
Held just days after the one-year anniversary of the group’s inaugural fundraiser for war victims in Ukraine, Chicago Chefs Cook for Earthquake Relief featured 45 chefs including Nikolaos Kapernaros of host restaurant Avli on the Park, Tigest Reda of Ethiopian restaurant Demera, and Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe. Special guest Sanaa Abourezk, a Syrian American James Beard Award semifinalist and owner of South Dakota restaurant Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean, flew in for the occasion, bringing with her the stories of devastation and trauma still unfolding in the region where her siblings and other family live.
In Syria, the earthquakes piled fresh trauma on a populace that has endured more than a decade of civil war in the region, which brought about European and U.S. sanctions against the Syrian government. The sanctions allow for international humanitarian aid, but these are often slow and fraught transactions. Political tensions in the region also extend to Turkey, which for decades has been at odds with neighboring Greece over issues including access to resources, territorial rights in the Aegean Sea, and disputes over ethnically split Cyprus.
All proceeds from the fundraiser are going to World Central Kitchen, a well-regarded nonprofit specifically attuned to feeding hungry people and supporting chefs and farmers in struggling regions with economic opportunities. It’s long been affiliated with celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés, and in a happy surprise, Andrés himself made an appearance for the Chicago Chefs Cook event at Avli on the Park. In a video posted to social media, Andrés (behind Chicago restaurants including Jaleo and Bazaar Meat) thanked the volunteers and organizers and reflected on the symbolism of the event in light of global political tensions.
“Everybody thinks about Greece and Turkey as two countries at odds,” Andrés says in the video. “Maybe the countries are, but tonight we have here the consul generals of both countries as best friends in this Greek restaurant supporting the efforts of World Central Kitchen in Turkey. That’s what it’s all about.”
Explore the scene at Chicago Chefs Cook for Earthquake Relief in the photographs below.