New Orleans Houston Connection

Celeb chef John Besh cooks up gumbo and jambalaya for northside residents impacted by Harvey

Celeb chef John Besh cooks up gumbo, jambalaya at Harvey relief event

John Besh Eunice
Celeb chef John Besh cooked for northside residents impacted by Harvey. Photo by Rush Jagoe
Miguel Solorzano John Besh Lance Gilliam
Father Miguel Solorzano, John Besh, and Lance Gilliam. Photo by Eric Sandler
Drake Leonards Pine Cove gumbo
Drake Leonards supervises the Pine Cove volunteers. Photo by Eric Sandler
Pine Cover waterslide
Pine Cove's college staff supervises a waterslide. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Besh jambalaya
John Besh serving jambalaya. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Besh Drake Leonards
Drake Leonards, left, John Besh, right, and a team of cooks made 78 gallons of gumbo. Photo by Eric Sandler
Pine Cove inflatable toys
Pine Cove brought a field full of inflatables. Photo by Eric Sandler
St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church clothing drive
The event also featured a clothing drive. Photo by Eric Sandler
John Besh Eunice
Miguel Solorzano John Besh Lance Gilliam
Drake Leonards Pine Cove gumbo
Pine Cover waterslide
John Besh jambalaya
John Besh Drake Leonards
Pine Cove inflatable toys
St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church clothing drive

Hurricane Harvey’s torrential downpours certainly affected some parts of the Houston area more than others, but hardly any neighborhood in the city escaped unscathed. While the city’s northside might not be getting the coverage that the Energy Corridor and Kingwood have, it needs assistance, too.

When Lance Gilliam heard about the need, he responded by reaching out to a few friends to set up a very special program to take place after Sunday mass at the St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. The commercial real estate broker and former chairman of the Houston Housing Authority asked Pine Cove to bring over a dozen large inflatables for a children’s playground, and he recruited New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh (a friend and client) to serve gumbo and jambalaya to the 1,000-plus churchgoers.

Pine Cove is a faith-based organization that operates summer camps, retreats, and outdoor education classes. From an email on Thursday, the organization found 250 college students who volunteered to help with all aspects of Sunday’s event — everything from serving gumbo and supervising kids playing on the inflatables to sorting clothes and holding babies.

“We see this as an opportunity to bring a little of what we do and maybe bless some kids who haven’t had a lot of fun over the last week,” Pine Cove president and CEO Reed Livesay tells CultureMap.

Working from an outdoor kitchen set up in the front yard, Drake Leonards, who will be chef-partner at Besh’s upcoming Houston restaurant Eunice, and the chefs produced 78 gallons of gumbo and jambalaya to feed the churchgoers. That was on top of the 4,000 of so people they’d fed a couple days before at NRG Center.

“Today is a lot of fun, because so many people in this community were affected,” Besh said. “To have a clothing drive, to have the FEMA drive, and to share a little gumbo and jambalaya with everybody is a way, I think, for all of us to connect on a very visceral level.”

Asked about why he felt compelled to come to Houston personally, Besh cited the bond forged between Houston and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His comments echoed those of Commander’s Palace co-proprietor Ti Martin, who started a fund to aid hospitality workers who need financial assistance after the storm.

“The gift of hospitality is very powerful. We share a little something with our neighbor, and then together we’re all lifted up,” Besh said. “To see how much Houston did for New Orleans after Katrina, I would dare to say we might not be back where we are if it weren’t for Houston. I think that any good Houstonian understands what I’m talking about.”

While the focus of the day was squarely on feeding hungry people, Besh did provide an update on Eunice, the Greenway Plaza restaurant that’s named after Leonard’s hometown. The chef said he expects it to open in November or December.

“It’s pushed back a few months, but I think it’s all the better anyway,” Besh said. “I think it’s allowed us to connect with the community that we knew but now we know in a more intimate way.”