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Helping Flood-Ravaged Northern Italy Is Chicago Chefs’ Next Mission

Plus, six women chefs are hosting a second fundraiser supporting refugees in Africa

The Flood Damage In Faenza In Emilia Romagna
Volunteers work to help flood victims in May in Faenza, Italy.
Photo by Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy is one of the country’s agricultural hubs, growing grapes for wine as well as producing the wheat, tomatoes, cheese, and ham used in many iconic Italian dishes. But the region’s farms were devastated last month due to catastrophic flooding that killed 14 people and displaced more than 36,000.

When Gene & Georgetti managing partner Michelle Durpetti heard about the disaster, her first thought was to reach out to Chicago Chefs Cook. The partnership of chefs associated with the Green City Market was formed in March 2022 to raise money for victims of the war in Ukraine and earned an Eater Award for Pop-Up of the Year for its philanthropy.

“(Emilia-Romagna) is a farm community and that resonates with the chefs,” says Prairie Grass Cafe co-executive chef Sarah Stegner, one of Chicago Chefs Cook’s leaders. “There’s so much need right now, and so many crises that it’s hard to pick and choose, but when a request comes from the food community, we want to respond.”

Gene & Georgetti will host a five-course dinner on Thursday, June 8 featuring dishes from the River North restaurant’s executive chef Christiano Bassani, Stegner, Dario Monni (Tortello), and Genie Kwon (Kasama). The restaurant’s vendors donated the entire menu so that the $350 tickets can go directly to helping Emilia-Romagna’s farmers rebuild.

“This region represents one-third of Italy’s fruit production, and 5,000 farmers were impacted by these floods,” Chicago Chefs Cook leadership team member Darren Gest says. “We could not sit on the sidelines with this one.”

After a period of prolonged drought that reduced the land’s ability to absorb water, the region received six months of rain over the course of 36 hours. The result was landslides that washed away orchards, vineyards, and crops right before they would have been harvested. Thousands of cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats were killed and the crop damage could total almost $1.6 billion since the area’s 15 million fruit trees could be killed by root rot.

“There’s footage of farm animals up to their necks trying to get out of flooded areas,” Durpetti said. “The organization that we partnered with is actually going to the region and will have boots on the ground to look at where the funding will be going to really get an idea of what the recovery effort will be.”

Chicago Chefs Cook also united 14 other Italian restaurants including Gibsons Italia, Nonnina, and Testaccio for a dinner series running Thursday, June 8 to Monday, June 12 to raise money for the National Italian American Foundation, which has been working with the Italian Embassy and the U.S. State Department on relief projects tied to earthquakes and floods across Italy for more than 20 years. Eight other spots including Luella’s Southern Kitchen, Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, and Saigon Sisters are dedicating a portion of their proceeds from special menu offerings to the cause.

“It’s a creative exercise in how they want to interpret and honor the region,” Gest says. “That could be a chef’s table, wine pairings, the ingredients, or the chef that they’re partnering with. Every event is different, but tied to this cause.”

The Emilia-Romagna Dinner Series marks the sixth event for Chicago Chefs Cook. In September, the organization raised $110,000 to support victims of the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and then quickly ran another event to provide flood relief for Puerto Rico. In March, they held an event at Avli on the Park that brought in $100,000 in donations to support survivors of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. They also gathered 60 chefs in April to celebrate the 80th birthday of Breakfast Queen Ina Pinkney and raise money for Green City Market and Pilot Light.

The participating chefs have also banded together for other causes. For instance, Stegner and Demera Ethiopian Restaurant chef/owner Tigist Reda, who took a leading role in the Chicago Chefs Cook for Tigray benefit, are joining with Margaret Pak (Thattu), Christine Cikowski (Honey Butter Fried Chicken), Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya Antojeria) and Sandra Holl (Floriole Cafe & Bakery) on Sunday, June 11 for A Night of Hope, a dinner raising money for the International Society of Better Health Access’ work to help children in the refugee camp near Ethiopia’s border with Sudan.

“Our experience has shown that every time something like this has happened, generosity has trumped fatigue,” Gest says. “That is what makes this community so unique. People have raised their hands, opened up their doors, and said ‘I want to help.’”

Chicago Chefs Cook presents: The Emilia-Romagna Dinner Series, Thursday, June 8 at Gene & Georgetti, 500 N. Franklin Street, tickets ($350) are available online.

A Night of Hope Benefit for the International Society for Better Health Access, Sunday, June 11 at Guild Row 3130 N. Rockwell Street, tickets ($75) are available online.

Gene & Georgetti

500 North Franklin Street, , IL 60654 (312) 527-3718 Visit Website

Guild Row

3130 North Rockwell Street, , IL 60618 (773) 654-3823 Visit Website