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Danny Bowien comes to the aid of his hometown

Local chefs event raises money for the Red Cross with help from Westmoore graduate Danny Bowien.
by Dave Cathey Modified: May 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm •  Published: May 28, 2013

On Monday, one of the country's hottest young chefs was in town to help local chefs raise money with a pop-up restaurant.

The OK Chefs Relief Pop-Up Restaurant drew about 1,500 people and raised about $75,000 on Sunday and Monday. All proceeds went to the Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross.

The amount raised might've been half that if not for the arrival of chef Danny Bowien, who has made his reputation on a simple restaurant with two goals: serve impossibly delicious food and feed those who need it most.

“I'm super proud to be back in Oklahoma,” said Bowien, who grew up in the Moore area. “It's an amazing and beautiful place to be from. I'm proud to be from a strong community.”

Bowien's involvement in the OK Chefs Relief effort turned what people were already calling an epic event into legend. In coming to the aid of his hometown, Bowien not only helped raise a lot of money but galvanized the local food scene.

Bowien has indicated in numerous interviews that he'd like to open a restaurant in Oklahoma City, which he reiterated in an interview Monday at the Myriad Botanical Gardens event space.

“There definitely is a space for it,” he said. “Every year coming back to Oklahoma City, it gets better and better and better and, like, cooler. I really miss the food here. I always go off about how amazing the Vietnamese food is here, and that's another reason I fell in love with cooking, was the Vietnamese food here.”

The addition would be an obvious coup to the up-and-coming Oklahoma City dining scene, but in the immediate aftermath of a killer tornado what's important is the amount of money he helped raise and how the possibility even came together.

The plan

The hammer had fallen from the sky only hours before chef Jonathon Stranger started making calls around the city to see who might want to join him to do a pop-up restaurant on Sunday to raise money in support of those who'd just had their lives turned upside-down.

By 9 a.m. the next morning, a meeting convened at The Tasting Room including chefs Marc Dunham and Chris Becker of the Francis Tuttle School of Culinary Arts and Kurt Fleischfresser of Western Concepts. The message was simple: When great cities are stricken by tragedy, its great chefs step up to help.

“We're already in a great city, it's time for us to be great chefs,” Stranger said.

Within 24 hours, the wheels were not only in motion but burning rubber toward Sunday, gaining donations from local farmers, producers, food brokers, wine brokers, servers and philanthropists. Morning meetings continued each day of the week, the table growing to include basketball star and artist Desmond Mason.

Early on, it was suggested the event might require a second night. The logistics already were a nightmare, but if demand for a second night arose, then why not double-down? Then came word that a chef who graduated from Westmoore High School might be interested in helping out.

Help on the way

The chef was Danny Bowien, who earlier this year was named Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation for his work at Mission Chinese, which has locations in San Francisco and New York City. That interest quickly became a commitment, and before anyone could really take a moment to digest what was happening, Bowien was on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” holding up a commemorative T-shirt designed by Mason before a national audience to promote the OK Chefs Relief Pop-Up Restaurant.

“Seriously, man, anything I could do,” Bowien said. “When some of the chefs got a hold of me, I was like, ‘I would drop anything to go back to Oklahoma.'”

Bowien, whose Mission Chinese Food was on Best New Restaurant lists by Bon Appetit and GQ in 2011 and was named People's Best New Chef of California by “Food and Wine,” arrived Sunday to visit family and friends in the affected area of Moore before finishing his night in the kitchen at Ludivine, where he prepped for Monday's event.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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