The Calistoga Fairgrounds kitchen crew. Photo by Andy Wild.
Tyler Florence at the Calistoga Fairgrounds kitchen. Photo by Andy Wild.
Volunteers at the Calistoga Fairgrounds kitchen. Photo by Andy Wild.
When he casually strolled over to the Calistoga Fairgrounds last Saturday night, chef Andrew Wild wasn’t planning to become the emergency food coordinator for nearly 1,000 Valley Fire refugees. But by 9:30pm, the local caterer and owner of Wild About Food and Drink had been tapped to set up meals for the many people looking for sanctuary.
”It was mayhem when I got [to the fairgrounds]. They were just getting set up and there was no communication yet, no one knowing what to do. And refugees were already coming in,” he said by cell phone late Wednesday night, after another long day of cooking. “I just said, ‘We need to do something.’ ” Wild is now the deputy executive chef for the Calistoga Fairgrounds relief coordination efforts.
Wild immediately set up a makeshift cafeteria with the few supplies they had at the fairgrounds: a small refrigerator, a handful of pans, an eight-burner stove, a prep table, and a semi-functional oven. By breakfast on Sunday, he was feeding 300 people, by lunch it was 800, and by dinner, it was more than 1,000. Dozens of other chefs, caterers, and volunteers have since lent a hand, expanding the kitchen to a Health Department-approved operation that’s pretty darn impressive.
“The Red Cross people are saying this is the best food they’ve ever had at an incident,” Wild said. Which isn’t surprising considering the fact that Napa and Sonoma businesses including Bouchon Bakery, Model Bakery, Petaluma Poultry, and countless other cheesemakers, pizzerias, and more have stepped up, with plenty more food on the way. Chef Tyler Florence showed up one afternoon to make macaroni and cheese, along with Michelin-starred chef Victor Scargle, caterer Elaine Bell, and countless other Wine Country toques. The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is also pitching in. The owners of Sonoma County BBQ even launched a crowdfunding campaign and are purchasing food for the kitchen and operating their barbecue full time.
Wild is still seeking volunteer help from anyone who can wield a knife or wipe a table, as well as donations of cooking equipment and food. He’s continuing to coordinate the kitchen operations throughout the day and well into the night. In fact, Wild said he even missed his son’s sixth birthday to get the food out. “Hopefully this is a learning lesson for him that it’s important to help others,” he said.
Despite the continuing devastation of the fire, Wild said victims are making the best of the situation. “It’s amazing that even people who have lost everything are in good spirits. They come and sit in the dining hall with instruments and just sing,” he added.
Maybe because they’ve got full bellies of food made with the love and care of a culinary community coming together.
Want to help? - Commercial food donations can be delivered to Andy Wild directly. Contact Heather for details on how to reach him by phone or contact the Red Cross command center.
A special need is a mobile dishwashing unit.
If you want to volunteer, Wild says to just show up at the fairgrounds, go to the Red Cross tent, and ask to help in the kitchen.
Donate to the Sonoma County BBQ GoFundMe campaign.
Follow the Wild About Food and Drink Facebook page.
Go to BiteClub to see restaurants offering Dine and Donate offers.