Four days after Hurricane Katrina hit, the owners and crew from Drago’s Seafood Restaurant started feeding people.
“We fed 3,000 people a day for four weeks,” says Klara Cvitanovich, who, with her husband, founded Drago’s. “We gave away 78,000 meals, and we’re still doing it.” For example, this year’s Thanksgiving means they’ll be providing something like 800 steak dinners for first responders, police, fire, and the homeless. And, in light of the Gulf oil spill and the perception it has caused that the seafood may not be safe, she says, “We just may do seafood this year!”
Her son, Tommy, shares the family sense of responsibility. When asked why they opened their arms, and their doors, after Katrina, he simply says, “Just ’cause we could.” To which Klara adds, “We support the people who support us.”
It’s just one of the stories of the remarkable locals that has come out as we’ve been in the Gulf Coast this week, gathering information and footage for our documentary about the state of Gulf seafood. It seems that the restaurants in and around New Orleans are inextricably tied to the relief efforts.
Haley Bittermann, Corporate Executive Chef for the Ralph Brennan Group of restaurants told us, “You know chefs–we aren’t happy unless we’re feeding someone. So right after Katrina we started making gumbo, and just kept at it as long as there were people who needed to be fed.”
These chefs and others along the Gulf Coast are still eager to feed people–only, this time, they want to encourage people to eat Gulf seafood.
Red Fish Grill Executive Chef Brian Katz says, “When the oil spill happened, others pulled back from serving seafood. Ralph Brennan took the opposite tack. He called us all together and said, ‘We’re going to serve more.'”
As we’ve talked with these chefs and others, several have mentioned the absolute pangs felt when they heard that restaurants outside the Gulf had posted signs saying, “We DON’T serve Gulf seafood.” Bittermann relates how soon after the spill, when she heard that some restaurants in New York had posted those signs, she met with a local oyster fishing family. “Their granddaughter was wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I Love New York’,” she said. “I’ll never forget thinking how, well, sad it was that she loved New York, and those restaurants in New York couldn’t realize how their actions were putting her family out of work.”
(Photo, above right, courtesy of Tommy Cvitanovich, Drago’s)
Follow all of our Gulf Coast stories, including The Food Channel crew on the road in New Orleans, on Twitter @foodchannel.
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