Chef’s Brigade Wins Ella Brennan “Stand Up for Your Hometown” Award
Unique meal assistance program serves 3.3 million meals to more than 24,000 New Orleanians
When Troy Gilbert founded Chef’s Brigade in the beginning of the pandemic, his idea was to use struggling restaurants to help feed hot, healthy and delicious meals to first responders. Brigade members initially were feeding first responders through a grant from New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, and that allowed for about 15 restaurants to prepare meals. Things changed quickly, however, after Chef’s Brigade became part of the City of New Orleans COVID meal program.
When the meal program sunsets later this month, the brigade, which is now a coalition of more than 80 local restaurants, will have served approximately 3.3 million meals to more than 24,000 New Orleanians. A recent analysis of the program reveals that it helped support about 530 direct jobs in the restaurant industry, another 129 indirect and induced jobs, and generated about $1.1 million in tax revenue for Orleans Parish. At the recent New Orleans Food and Wine Experience, Gilbert and Peyton received an Ella Brennan “Stand Up for Your Hometown” award.
“We’re not aware of any other American city that took this approach to feeding people during the pandemic,” says Gilbert. “Mayor Cantrell and her team saw an opportunity to aid local restaurants and provide residents in need with delicious New Orleans food like red beans and rice, Cajun blackened fish, Louisiana Catfish Creole, chicken and étouffée and many others.”
When New Orleans first issued a request for proposals (RFP) it appeared that Chef’s Brigade wouldn’t qualify. The RFP required that costs be covered by the applicant with later reimbursement (FEMA covers 75 percent of the reimbursement with 25 percent coming from the City of New Orleans) and that knocked Chef’s Brigade, a small nonprofit, out of the competition. However, another applicant, Revolution Foods, who could handle the reimbursement schedule, approached Chef’s Brigade. The combined application proved successful and Chef’s Brigade/Revolution Foods began delivering meals to those in need in late June 2020.
With the morbidity and mortality rates significantly reduced because of vaccinations, the meal program will end this month, but Chef’s Brigade after a brief respite will continue according to Gilbert.
“We’ve built a nimble, scalable and powerful mechanism to produce enormous quantities of nutritious New Orleans comfort foods for those in need, while providing an emergency financial lifeline to many in our beloved and culturally important restaurant industry, whether that’s restaurants, purveyors or independent chefs.”