Three Wegmans employees recently spent several days in New York City as part of the nonstop emergency food service operation set up to feed rescue personnel working at the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Mike Manlove, assistant manager, and Chris Happel, sous chef, both at the Wegmans store in South Whitehall Township, and Joe Kratchowill, executive chef of the new Wegmans store set to open Oct. 21 in Hanover Township, joined rotating teams of other Wegmans employees from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
After the terrorist attack, the emergency food service began as a grass-roots effort when restaurants got together with City Harvest, a food-rescue operation that collects food that otherwise goes to waste to feed the hungry.
City Harvest already had a system in place to pick up and deliver donated food to the restaurants, where it was prepared. Personnel aboard a cruise ship in New York harbor also helped cook.
"Food was coming in from all over," says Kratchowill, "everyone from wholesalers, corporate donations, even the Greenmarkets. It's harvest season, so the farmers who come in to sell produce in the city were giving huge donations."
Wegmans also donated a tractor-trailer load of food and other goods.
Manlove and Kratchowill joined other chefs who cooked for 12-hour shifts in the kitchens of two of the city's best restaurants, the four-star Bouley Bakery and Danube, both owned by award-winning chef (and Wegmans consultant) David Bouley on Duane Street in Tribeca, just blocks from the World Trade Center.
For dinner every day, they prepared five entrees, three vegetables and two starches.
"We did a lot of comfort foods: chicken parmesan, meatloaf, roasted chicken with olive oil and fresh basil and roasted grape tomatoes. We did a pineapple coconut chicken over jasmine rice, and we had fresh baked apple strudel and fresh baked bread every day," says Kratchowill.
"For the situation, the food was very nice; the firemen and the police were very complimentary. They said the food was very good and it was very hot and it was always served fresh," he says.
Other volunteers included people from television cooking shows, people from other restaurants, celebrities and students from cooking schools, says Manlove. "Doctors, lawyers, people from all over who had quit their jobs came to help the firefighters."
Because the kitchens were small, "we had to cook constantly. There wasn't a time a skillet didn't have something in it or the oven wasn't on," says Kratchowill.
"In the kitchen, there were about five of us cooking, with about six people chopping, peeling and cutting," says Kratchowill.
"It was a very massive undertaking. It was the 'ready, set, cook' method," says Manlove, after menus were developed based on what foods were donated.
After the food was prepared, volunteers delivered it down to ground zero with a police escort. It was served cafeteria style in a small restaurant that had been damaged in the attack.
There still is no electricity or running water there, just generators.
"We had to bring ovens and chafing dishes. We were running 24 hours a day and could seat 300 people at a time," says Kratchowill.
He estimates the operation feeds between 8,000 and 12,000 people per day. It is the one closest to the disaster site, and the only one serving hot meals, he says. Other spots nearby provide soup and sandwiches.
"The devastation down there is apocalyptic," says Kratchowill. "It was unreal. It looked like the special effects of a movie. I wept the first night I was there to see how horrible it really was. A lot of people put their lives on the line that day."