Extra Helpings from a Benevolent Restaurant Industry

New Orleans, La. –

One bad thing happened, and countless good things came from it. That was the essential message New Orleans chef Nathaniel Zimet shared with the hundreds of people who turned out to support him at a benefit in July.

The bad thing was indeed very bad: Zimet, the chef and owner of the Uptown restaurant, Boucherie, was shot during a robbery outside his home in May. His wounds were very serious and he was hospitalized for some time. The good things, however, started piling up right away. Friends in the restaurant business and regular customers at Boucherie rallied to his aid, quickly organizing a series of benefit events to help defray the chef's mounting medical bills. Bands performed, restaurants served food and restaurant suppliers, distributors and many individuals contributed to the party, all for a common cause. It was a potent collection of people bent on doing good, and the event's organizers have even discussed making it an annual event to raise money for others in need in the future.

The event was a powerful demonstration of the way the New Orleans restaurant community can respond once mobilized for a mission, but this was hardly a unique example. Our restaurant community is called upon for help and support all the time. The countless benefits, galas and fundraisers that pepper the New Orleans calendar would not be the same without those serving tables doling out dishes from local restaurant menus. They make these beneficent events work as surely as the bar and the bands.

Lately though, the local restaurant community has been stepping up its game, inspired by the terrible calamities visited upon those in its very ranks. Chef Zimet's shooting was one example. Another is the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, a nonprofit formed a few years ago by managers and executives from some of the area's biggest restaurants and hotels. They host events, raise money and make grants to a range of causes, including, notably, cooks, waiters and others in their field who find themselves in dire need.

Another community effort has coalesced around the Taste Buds, the management group for the local Zea Rotisserie & Grill chain. In May, they helped run a wildly successful event called Liuzza Palooza, a fundraiser for Michael Bordelon, the co-owner of Mid-City's historic Liuzza's Restaurant, who was severely injured after being hit by a drunk driver. The idea started as a block party, but so many in the industry wanted to get involved it ended up looking like a festival. The same group also hit the road to bring their own Louisiana festival to the people of Joplin, Missouri, after this spring's devastating tornado there. Again, many others took part and demonstrated this industry's ability and willingness to help others in need.

Sometimes, that help comes full circle, and an upcoming local dining event shows how. Chef Zimet, grateful for the help he received and eager to make a difference, is now promoting an event called Fight Crime with a Fork, a citywide restaurant benefit for the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, a nonprofit that supports reforms in the local criminal justice system. On Thursday, Aug. 11, a roster of restaurants around town have pledged a portions of their proceeds to the foundation, and anyone can participate just by dining out with them on this Fight Crime with a Fork night.

See the list of participating restaurants here.