Chef Michael Anthony of New York City's Gramercy Tavern is smart, talented and beloved by colleagues and customers alike. When his aorta suddenly tore, sending him into emergency open heart surgery, the community he'd always fed returned the favor.
"After my surgery and homecoming, the gestures of encouragement poured in: get well cards, concerned emails, thoughtfully chosen books and poems, inspirational movies and carefully packed handmade food. I appreciated everyone who reached out during this time, but it dawned on me that the cooks had a special ability to connect and communicate by the food they shared. Some simply nourished and others dazzled but everyone told a story.
With the help of these restaurant folk and their deliveries, I eased my way back in to being myself again by tasting each expression...chocolate chip cookies felt just like a pat on the back.
Each bite made me feel a profound sense of thanks to those who lent a hand or a meal when I needed it most. Through the careful choices and deliberate styles, informal gestures and intricate work, whether immediately consumed or painstakingly preserved, we communicate so much with those who are at the receiving end of a thoughtful meal."
Read - Chefs with Issues: Food for the heart
5. After Irene, seeking comfort in pleasures
When Hurricane Irene, raged through Upstate New York, it laid waste to entire towns. Almost everyone lost something. Some people lost everything. Everyone wanted to help.
A post appeared on a community Facebook page:
"'Want to help but don't know how? Thursday & Friday 5-9pm at the Sharon Springs Firehouse we will be baking cookies. Everything we make will go directly to those in need, via our Sharon & Carlisle firemen. Please COME HELP BAKE or donate: flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate & butterscotch chips, oatmeal, cocoa, zipper seal snack & sandwich bags. ALSO wanted small bottles of bubbles (3-4oz best) just to give a kid a reason to smile for 5 minutes. PLEASE SHARE THIS.'
Cookies. Everyone can wrap their heads around cookies, even when their world is crumbling around them. In the midst of chaos, total loss and bleak uncertainty, it's a small taste of normalcy. So very much more is needed, but anyone can start with that."
Read - Hungry for normal in a terrifying time and After Irene, a community bands together to feed its own
6. After Katrina, hungry for a taste of home
New Orleans' distinctive cuisine is deeply ingrained in the city's identity. When floodwaters threatened to wash away all ties to the food the region holds so dear, a glimpse of a familiar label was a beacon of hope.
"Poppy Tooker recalls the grimness of the post-Katrina grocery stores. 'When the grocery stores reopened, there was no butter, and just no place for anyone to buy fresh food.' Then one day -- a glimpse of normalcy.
She says, 'Way up on the top shelf, under the generator lights, I saw a package that looked familiar and I pulled it down. There's this bakery called Brocato's that had just celebrated their centennial, and I'd heard that they'd gotten five feet of water and I couldn't find the owners. I figured I might never see these cookies again, so I bought maybe 20 packages of them.'
Tooker continued, 'I was sitting on my couch surrounded by all these cookie boxes and I saw this sticker on the side, next to the centennial sticker, and it said 'Best by August 2005.' I started crying, saying I should just get a tattoo that said the same thing because that's going to be true of all of us.'"
Read - New Orleans: The food that got them through
7. After 9/11, seeking comfort in food and drink
When madmen tried to destroy our home, my fellow New Yorkers and I used food and booze to soothe, numb and make our way through a wounded city.
"Nachos are uncomplicated and pleasing -- salty and crispy and laden with cheese and a kiss of spice. They're all I could wrap my head around, and since I had no one to cook for at home, nacho dates with similarly shell-shocked friends became a regular part of my social schedule. Volunteer, then nachos. Movies, then nachos. Drinks -- with nachos.
Plenty of friends were more than willing to fall into the nacho swing -- unless they'd developed a food tic of their own. One friend could only choke down grilled cheese and another couple subsisted entirely on breakfast foods. Anything more elaborate than that was a shock to the system -- except for drinking. Everyone did plenty of that as well as sleeping (both alone and...not) and for a while, with this, we swaddled our souls and tried to adjust to a New York with a hole shot through its heart."
Read - Pouring whiskey in the wound
8. After a tornado, bringing in barbecue and community
Pitmaster Drew Robinson knows the grounding force and grace of a simple offer of food. When tornadoes hit his home state of Alabama, he and his colleagues sprung into action to bring barbecue to the masses.
"My friend John Egerton told me once that sometimes when people have lost a loved one or are in despair all you can do is take them a bowl of potato salad and tell them you're sorry.