Bay Area Bon Appétiters Fight Fire With Hot Meals and Emergency Donations

Presidio Foods Catering Executive Chef Nathan Clark and Bon Appétit chef-partner Traci Des Jardins in front of a truck of hot meals ready to be delivered to fire evacuees

When news of fires ravaging Northern California broke out, Bay Area Bon Appétit teams sprang into action to do what they do best: cook nourishing, fresh food for those who needed it most.

As thousands were forced to evacuate and the fires continued to spread north of the Bay Area, a group of San Francisco-based restaurateurs, including Bon Appétit chef-partner Traci Des Jardins, banded together to create an emergency relief network, SF Fights Fire, to provide hot meals to evacuees.

What started with a handful of restaurant chefs and a spreadsheet to manage donations quickly grew into an organization that encompasses over 235 Bay Area chefs who were able to provide 34,000 meals to fire victims in just two weeks, including 3,000 meals per day to the Santa Rosa Salvation Army and up to 1,200 meals per day to emergency shelters in Sonoma county. Chefs were asked to donate 100 portions of a protein, starch, vegetable, or dessert; package them; and deliver them to Bon Appétit’s Presidio Foods Catering in the Presidio of San Francisco, which served as the primary transportation hub distributing meals to evacuee centers.

“Seeing the quality of food that 238 different chefs sent over was a humbling experience — we knew instantly that these chefs were cooking for people who needed more than just a meal.”

Presidio Foods Catering Executive Chef Nathan Clark worked tirelessly day and night alongside Dishwasher Jermel Black, Cook Natanya Bruzzese-Cooley, and Lead Line Cook Conan Fontenot to receive and organize donations and build meal packages to be transported. Cooks Monica Barborosa and Iris Nunex arrived at 2:30 a.m. to ensure 1,500 evacuees received a hot breakfast. Sous Chef Dale Arcalas took on double his workload to cook meal donations in addition to ensuring that catering operations continued to run smoothly. “This is the most important job I’ve ever done,” Dale said. As new shelters popped up and needed to feed people quickly, Presidio Foods Catering team members volunteered to drive the food up to the shelters themselves to keep fire victims fed.

Bon Appétit chefs throughout San Francisco supported the relief efforts: from Executive Pastry Chef Ian Farrell of Bakery 350 managing donations and transporting meals to Sonoma, to the team at University of San Francisco dropping off regular donations — including sending breakfast for 1,500 at a moment’s notice. Bon Appétit staff from LinkedIn and SurveyMonkey also prepared and delivered meals. In a true show of community solidarity, Bon Appétit Farm to Fork vendor FEED Sonoma volunteered their fleet of delivery trucks and drivers to ensure that the meals arrived where they were needed most.

Never dreaming how many people it would point in the right direction, Lead Line Cook Conan Fontenot made a sign to guide donation dropoffs

“There was so much emotion at our loading dock that it would consume you. A few people would start to cry after seeing all of the donations. Some would embrace, feeling a little more secure knowing that this is how our industry responds when called upon,” said Nathan, recounting the first week of relief efforts. “Seeing the quality of food that 238 different chefs sent over was a humbling experience — we knew instantly that these chefs were cooking for people who needed more than just a meal.”

As evacuees begin to return home to face the aftermath of the devastating wildfires, efforts will shift to focus on longer-term relief to support the food industry. Bay Area Bon Appétit public restaurants STEM Kitchen & Garden, Foundry & Lux, and Public House have all introduced point-of-sale donation programs, giving guests the opportunity to add a monetary donation on top of their meal check in support of fire relief organizations. Fundraising dinners are also in the works at some local accounts.