By Alexandra Nicolas
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For Joplin resident Jennifer McDonald, it wasn’t just the New Orleans-style music and food that brought her to Landreth Park on Tuesday night.
“Seeing Louisiana not just here in spirit, but physically here, it brings a tear to your eye,” she said.
McDonald was among hundreds of Joplin residents and volunteers who turned out for music and New Orleans-style seafood, served by The Taste Buds as part of the Three Chefs, One Mission project in Landreth Park.
While McDonald’s home survived the May 22 tornado, both of her jobs — as a bus driver for the Joplin School District and as a housekeeper for St. John’s Regional Medical Center — have her focused on tornado recovery, and the taste of Louisiana was a welcome break.
The Taste Buds, a New Orleans-based food company, was founded by chefs Greg Reggio, Gary Darling and Hans Limburg. The Three Chefs, One Mission project is designed to reach out to communities coping with disaster, much like New Orleans did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Taste Buds arrived from Louisiana on Tuesday morning, and spent the afternoon cooking and later serving a traditional menu that included spinach salad, bread pudding, oysters, crab, jambalaya and alligator. They brought tractor-trailers of equipment, roughly 600 pounds of food, 30 staff members and area volunteers, and assembled a full kitchen on the stage in the park with the goal of feeding about 1,000 people.
All living in New Orleans, The Taste Buds are no strangers to disaster relief efforts, and they wanted to bring a taste of “Louisiana love” to Joplin, Reggio said.
“It’s a way of paying it forward, and paying it back,” Reggio said in between throwing slabs of seasoned alligator meat on the grill and breading oysters for the fryer.
Ilene Powell, a former New Orleans resident and friend of Reggio’s, was serving bread pudding as a volunteer. Powell, who said she moved to Eureka Springs, Ark., after Hurricane Katrina, said she had volunteer assistance in cleaning out her own home after the hurricane, and she remembers how important it is to “feed the soul” of the people living in the aftermath of disaster and those willing to help. She said those memories brought her to Joplin to help serve.
Darling said one of the things often missing from disaster relief is a break from the negativity and constant hard work. While the necessities of living and relief efforts are provided by others, The Taste Buds can provide a few hours of distraction and memories of “good music and good food,” he said.
“You go back to cleaning, and you go back to dealing with insurance companies,” he said. “But hey, wasn’t that fish good the other day? Wasn’t that music good? OK. Now let’s clean this room out.”