In response to devastating fires to their north, San Francisco food professionals are linking arms tighter than ever before, joining forces to cook and deliver thousands of meals to wine country fire victims. SF Fights Fire, created by a quorum of the city’s best-known chefs, built its website within two days of the fire, and within three, had the infrastructure to deliver 3,000 meals per day.
“I haven’t ever seen anything quite like this,” says Jardinière chef/owner Traci Des Jardins, speaking both to the disaster and the response to it. She and several others in the SF Fights Fire collective have been working full-time on the relief effort.
The project — coordinated by Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions, The Progress), Sam Mogannam (Bi-Rite), Matt Cohen (Off the Grid), Ravi Kapur (Liholiho Yacht Club), and Craig Stoll (Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina) — is a bit like a giant emergency potluck. A master spreadsheet, edited online, is divided up by meal: The group aims to provide about 1,300 breakfasts, 1700 lunches, and 1700 dinner per day. Restaurants sign up and cook, coordinating to make sure different food groups and options are represented. They then transport their donations to the Presidio and Des Jardins’ catering company there, Presidio Foods Catering.
SF Fights Fire has also been working with Copia, a San Francisco-based company aiming to reduce food waste by collecting leftover food donations. Copia has been collecting food prepared by 48 restaurants and bringing it to the Presidio drop off point. Amid high donation volume, the company has also been signing up volunteer delivery drivers.
Bon Appétit Management Co., the massive food service company based in Palo Alto, has been spearheading delivery from the Presidio to the North Bay. There, primary donation recipients are the Salvation Army and other shelter operators.
Today’s SF Fights Fire lunch menu includes 100 portions (3 to four ounces) of braised chicken thighs and tofu from Mister Jiu’s, 100 BLT sandwiches from Bacon Bacon, and mixed green salads from RT Rotisserie. Tonight’s dinner comes courtesy of Lord Stanley (600 portions of beef bolognese) Bi-Rite (100 servings of chicken enchilada casserole), and many others.
If the times weren’t so lean, this might sound like a feast — and there’s really no shame in the food being good. “It’s about healing this community through food,” says Des Jardins, “being able to offer delicious, nicely prepared meals to people whose lives have been turned upside down... to provide community and comfort through food.”
Longtime local chef Richie Nakano, who has organized his own relief efforts and collected donations from the SF Fights Fire group, calls their work “incredible.” He, too has feverishly dedicated himself to helping North Bay fire victims, driving up sometimes twice a day in a Scion XB stocked with food and supplies.
“I think the restaurant industry is uniquely qualified to handle crisis,” Nakano suggests. “It’s our natural state of being.”
That could be corroborated on the national stage. José Andrés, for example, served nearly 100,000 meals per day to Puerto Ricans whose homes were ravaged by hurricane. Locally, Guy Fieri took a break from touring diners and drive-ins to cook for 5,000 fire victims in the Santa Rosa area.
Though the names on the SF Fights Fire roster could sell out a food festival, any degree of celebrity is beside the point. “I definitely want to emphasize that this is a collective effort,” says Des Jardins. “When we all came together, the intention was for us to pool our resources, and know that we have a high level of impact. That’s not about one person going out and cooking food very publicly.”
The community response has heartened many like Nakano, a chef known for his caustic cynicism on Twitter. “2017 had me in ‘fuck everything’ mode,’” he says. “I think I feel more compassionate about people right now. It’s made me feel a little nicer, if only temporarily.”
But it might not be so temporary. For Des Jardins and SF Fights Fire, the commitment is ongoing. “We’re in this for the long haul,” she says, though the push will “segue into an effort to support our food community in other ways,” like promoting tourism, hosting fundraisers, and purchasing Napa and Sonoma wines.