You hungry? Come eat.
A two-handed paddle, a restaurant family and some creative cooking are helping to feed New Orleans during the COVID-19 crisis.
By: Jeanne Ryan, VP of Marketing for Spiceology
With 300-year-old, Big Easy roots, Chef Isaac and Amanda Toups have been sharing their sophisticated approach to Cajun cuisine since 2012 at their Mid-City New Orleans restaurant, Toups' Meatery.
At this staple of the NOLA food scene, you’ll find “Christendom’s finest” authentic cracklins, house-cured meats and sumptuous slow-cooked meals created by this six-time James Beard Best Chef of the South semifinalist and finalist. And the warm and inviting hospitality the Toups are known for.
Needless to say, the Toups were “born and braised” to share their culinary point of view with the world. But as is the case with so many talented chefs and restaurateurs, COVID-19 has hit Toups' Meatery hard. But just like the ever-resilient city they call home, the Toups haven’t given up.
These veterans of the foodservice industry are helping others get through these tough times by doing the thing they do best. Cook.
“We’ve always fed our employees breakfast and lunch,” said Amanda. “We call it Family Meal, and it’s a pretty common thing in the foodservice industry. So, when we had to lay off some of our beloved staff, we kept the meals going.”
As word got out about Family Meal, what started as a way to take care of their own grew into 300 free meals a day to support the elderly, healthcare workers, homeless and anyone who needs a warm meal. People call ahead to reserve their meals, which are ready for delivery and scheduled social-distance pickup after 3 pm, following the best in food safety and COVID-19 practices and showing us humanity at its best.
“Are you hungry?” asked Amanda. “Come eat.”
Every day, Chef Issac heads into his kitchen to do culinary battle, armed only with a six-burner stove, two 20-pound crawfish pots, his two-handed wooden paddle, whatever ingredients he has to work with each day and the tenacity and creativity that made him the Fan Favorite on Season 13 of Bravo’s Top Chef.
“Every morning, I say to myself, Isaac, you can do this,” said Chef Toups. “I’ve got five hours, my paddle, some random ingredients and people to feed. I can f&*king do this.”
And he does. But he doesn’t do it alone.
At first, the Toups supported Family Meal completely on their own, but as the need continued to grow so did the cost. And then the city known for its Saintly football team stepped in.
“I have no shame,” Amanda said. “I will ask anyone to help us with Family Meal.”
And the help has come from other closed restaurants donating their food, breweries like Port Orleans Brewing Co., Urban South Brewery, Abita Beer, Nola Brewing and Dixie Beer providing a little cheer, companies like Popeyes and Cox providing funds, and private donations from community members.
“We had a private donor who wants to remain nameless write us a check for $2,000 and another community member donate $3,” said Toups. “Both donations mean so much to us.”
And, with Easter rapidly approaching, the Toups are sweetening Family Meal.
“We started thinking about the kids of these families and how scary the world must be right now,” said Amanda. “We have kids of our own and I know what they’re going through. Nothing feels normal. So I started making some phone calls.”
And again, the Big Easy answered. With candy and basket donations, the Toups will be giving away 145 Easter baskets to kids in need, 30 of whom are homeless, providing a little bit of joy and happiness for this hard-hit community.
And while this little restaurant that could is still cranking out delicious curbside pickup and delivery for restaurant patrons, the Toups are committed to Family Meal as long as it is needed, proving once again that meals are what bring us together.
“In these weird times, it’s hugs I miss most,” said Amanda. “And, while we can’t hug you, Family Meal is a hug from Team Toups to our community.”
Well Toups, this is the community hugging you back.
About "Grind On"
When COVID-19 was approaching, no one had any idea how much it would change the restaurant world -- and so many of our lives. Overnight, restaurants either had to close their doors, or figure out a "plan B" to survive. Spiceology is shining light on the many amazing "plan B" stories that showcase the undying spirit of the chef community. They are an inspiration. Grind On is part of a larger initiative called HelpChefs.com, which is providing free resources and funding for impacted restaurant workers. Check out more Grind On stories on the site, and visit the sponsor partners who are donating products and funds to help this community see this thing through.