Central Florida Culinary Community Comes Together in Response to Attack

Written By Scott Joseph On June 13, 2016


In photo, Gary Appelsies takes a delivery of food Monday at the Downtown Orlando YMCA.

As it always does, unfailingly, in times of need, the Central Florida culinary community has come together to do what it can in response to the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub Sunday morning. Some of the actions were reflexive and random, providing food or drink to first responders and to the multitudes who showed up to donate blood at local collection agencies.

By Monday morning a more organized effort was in place, coordinated by Gary Appelsies, director of healthy eating for Central Florida YMCA. The Downtown Y is the staging area for restaurants to drop off meals that will be distributed, mainly by caterers such as Cuisiniers Catering and Farm Haus, to police officers still working the crime scene, workers at the hospitals and the families of the victims who have begun to gather.

“This is about bringing the culinary community together,” said Applesies. He stressed that the need is for prepared meals only, food that can be distributed to be eaten readily. There is no need at this time for canned good, he said.

Jamie McFadden, co-owner of Cuisiniers, said he has trucks and drivers lined up to deliver food. “Whatever they need, all week,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to be a two or three day commitment,” he added. “It’s probably going to be over the next week or even two weeks.”

Lauren Durchslag, a manager at Tap Room at Dubsdread, was one of the people who leapt into action early Sunday morning. Steve Gunter, owner of the Tap Room, said that before he had even gotten to the restaurant Sunday, Durchslag had grabbed some bottles of water and some orange juice and was headed to a blood center to hand the drinks out to the people lining up to donate.

Pat Michaels, spokesman for OneBlood, said that Tijuana Flats and Chick-fil-a had staff handing out food and gift cards to people in line to give blood — one report said a line to donate was a mile . Two local food trucks, Up in Smoke and Vegan Hot Dog Stand, also mobilized to serve the donors.

Brandy Blackwell, senior marketing manager for Tijuana Flats, said the local chain had offered free meals to nurses, doctors, EMTs and police officers Sunday and were extending the offer to Monday. She said they also took food to the emergency rooms and planned more food drops to include radio station personnel who have been working to keep the public informed.

Shirley Stamper of John and Shirley’s Catering got a call from a friend who is a counselor at The Center, which serves the LGBT community, saying there was a tremendous need for water and food for the counselors who were dealing with the crisis.

Stamper said that she had a whole house of friends and relatives who had come to town to help her celebrate her 60th birthday. “All my house guest heard me talking on the phone,” she said, “ and they were all standing there asking what they could do” They were soon loading supplies onto Stamper’s catering truck.

She says she called a manager at the Winter Park Costco who told her that by the time she got there they would have a pallet of food waiting outside.

At the Center, she said, other caterers had arrived and everyone was working together. Erika Boesch, of Bistro on Park Avenue, showed up with desserts. Domino’s and Papa John’s dropped off pizzas.

She said they were all working together, no one tried to take the lead, and no one was trying to get recognition for what they were doing.

“As a matter of fact, I made a point of not taking water bottles with our logo on them,” said Stamper. She told her Costco contact, Darren, that she hated to ask for bottled water when she already had some but she didn’t want it to look like she was handing out business cards.

Later in the day, a bomb threat was phoned into the Center and it was evacuated. Stamper said that cars were driving by out front shouting that the only punishment for gay people is death.

Right about then, she said, Menchies Frozen Yogurt showed up with tubs of frozen desserts. “That was just what everyone needed just then,” she said.

Restaurants that wish to be a part of the Culinary Cares effort can reply to the Contact Scott page with your details; I’ll forward the information to Applesies. In addition, a Facebook page, Culinary Cares: In Support of Pulse, has been set up.

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