At the suggestion of a Tar Heel celebrity chef, Asheville chefs and restaurants are signing up to serve fish stew in an effort to raise money for flood relief in Eastern North Carolina.
Vivian Howard, co-owner of Chef & The Farmer restaurant in Kinston and star of the PBS show A Chef’s Life, sent out an email on Thursday asking chefs to serve a traditional dish she was familiar with known as fish stew. She suggested that folks put their own twist on the dish, add it to their menus, and contribute proceeds to flood relief.
In Asheville, Katie Button of Curate and Nightbell, Eric Scheffer of Vinnie’s and Lynn Foster of Buffalo Nickel have all signed on. The idea is to sell the dish during the week of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5. Flood relief money can be donated to agencies such as the United Way, Howard suggested. UPDATE: Other restaurants that have signed on include Ambrozia, Local Provisions, Chupacabra, The Cantina and Ultimate Ice Cream.
Hurricane Matthew triggered record-breaking flooding across Eastern North Carolina. Heavy rainfall – from 16 to 18 inches – caused the flooding, which rivaled the devastating floods of 1999 after Hurricane Floyd. At least 26 people have died in the Tar Heel state from Hurricane Matthew impacts. The disaster has caused caused $1.5 billion in damage to 100,000 homes, businesses and government buildings, according to official estimates.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports that the idea is catching on across the state:
Among the restaurants owners and chefs who have already expressed interest in participating are Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, Player’s Retreat in Raleigh and chef Katie Button, who owns Curate and Nightbell, in Asheville.
Here’s the email that Howard sent out:
Many of you know that parts of Eastern North Carolina are flooded as a result of Hurricane Matthew. After more than a week, the water has not receded and parts of my already challenged region face unprecedented devastation and a seemingly insurmountable rebuild. As a member of the food and beverage industry, an industry that increasingly goes to bat for those in need, I’d like to propose a way we, as an extended community, can help a place and a people in dire straits. Here’s the idea:
In Eastern Carolina when a group needs to raise money for a cause, they sell food. From church fellowship halls, volunteer fire departments or community buildings, five times out of 10, the offering is something we call “fish stew.” Deceptively simple, our particular brand of stew is unique to the three counties around where I live. It starts with rendered bacon and ends with whole eggs that are cracked over top about five minutes before serving. A proper serving includes some fish (usually rockfish, sheepshead or catfish), a few slices of potato, onions, a whole hard-poached egg, reserved crisp bacon for the top and a slice of white bread to sop up what’s left of its tomato paste- laced broth.
I believe the tradition of cracking eggs over top came about when a resourceful farmer needed to stretch a stew further than the fish could take it. And because eggs were something most farmers had plenty of, they became the way to add heft and heartiness to an otherwise lean offering. What a happy accident that the thing thrown in to make it stretch, made it memorable.
That’s sort of the genesis of this idea. What if we as restauranteurs and chefs offered our own version of Eastern Carolina’s fish stew- rendered in giving, stewed in storytelling and finished with substance? What if we told our guests about Eastern Carolina’s food fundraisers, stew stretched by eggs and my region’s flood. What if we sold that stew as a special for one week- beginning October 30 through November 5- and donated the proceeds to help a community while telling stories that exalt its culture? Please join me in making this “what if” a reality.
If you choose to participate, and I hope you do, please consider sharing this message with like-minded people in the industry and beyond. My hope is that we not only help Eastern Carolina recover, we help it thrive. Make donations at lenoirgreeneunitedway.org with the tag #fishstew.”