Because of my work-in-progress, I knew that one man arrived on the disaster scene every time: Gary LeBlanc of Mercy Chefs.
Gary was a highly successful chef when in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he became convinced that victims and first responders in disaster zones deserved professionally crafted, restaurant-quality meals in the midst of their crisis. Others were on-site providing meals, but he felt he was uniquely qualified to do it better.
"Serving soggy green beans out of a can for 14 days... that's not loving on someone who has lost everything through no fault of their own," he told me.
I've been preparing a proposal for a book chronicling Gary's journey to relief work. Raised in New Orleans, he knew he couldn't just "send a hundred bucks and feel good about myself," when Katrina struck. Instead, he headed down there himself, with a mobile kitchen he outfitted in two days.
Gary's life story is a colorful one -- he was born into an old Louisiana family made famous by his great uncle, who pedaled an alcohol-fueled home remedy called Hadocol with the help of celebrities of the day, like Milton Berle and Lucille Ball.
When it came time to earn money, through a quirk of fate, Gary ended up working in a restaurant instead of a gas station. And he didn't work in just any old restaurant -- he landed at Commander's Palace, the famous restaurant owned by the illustrious Brennan family. While there, he worked under the tutelage of the famed Cajun chef, Paul Prudhomme.
Recently, Gary and Mercy Chefs were featured on the national stage: Rachael Ray invited him onto her show, and even orchestrated a surprise visit with one of Gary's heroes, chef Jacques Pepin. You can watch the segment here .
If you feel moved to help out after a natural disaster, you couldn't do better than donate to Mercy Chefs. In the meantime, I'm on the hunt for a publisher. Contact me if you're a publisher who wants to know more or see the proposal.