Honest Man Restaurant Group Executive Chef Joe Realmuto butchers 60 turkeys as a part of a food-based relief effort organized by his company through East End Cares.
By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller
On Tuesday afternoon, Townline BBQ was thick with the smell of smoked meat.
Not unusual for the Sagaponack-based mecca to barbequed chicken, pork and beef.
But this time it was 60 turkeys smoked by the Townline BBQ pitmaster which Chef Joe Realmuto was breaking down. All of the smoked birds were headed not to the dining rooms of Nick & Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita or even Townline BBQ itself, but instead west to the Rockaways to help feed the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
By the end of today, Thursday, December 13, what has been coined Operation Dinner Out/Dinner is Served by an administrator of the Facebook group East End Cares (EEC), will have provided a total of 500 turkeys to warming stations, churches and fire departments. The turkeys were donated by Fairway Market and stored and cooked in kitchens across the South Fork.
And that is only the beginning.
The group expects another shipment of 500 turkeys some time in the next two weeks — the continuation of a food relief program started by two youth-based athletic organizations which has evolved to include the efforts of some of the South Fork’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs.
According to Daniel Gualtieri, one of many administrators of EEC — a coordinating group of South Fork residents helping to lead those interested in providing some kind of support or relief to Hurricane Sandy victims — the movement was really founded by Montauk Youth and East Hampton Youth Lacrosse.
The groups began working together on a sandwich and lunch drive, and as EEC formed, the group quickly surpassed its first goal of raising 500 lunches.
“That first effort we doubled what we hoped to raise,” said Gualtieri.
A thousand lunches were shipped on a donated Hampton Jitney. From there, said Gualtieri, the movement in terms of food relief just snowballed.
A little over a week after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, a powerful nor’easter blew through the region. It was that storm that would connect the EEC movement with the Honest Man Restaurant Group team, including Realmuto, Mark Smith and Christy Cober.
“We do the community soup kitchen at Most Holy Trinity [Church] and in the beginning of November when the nor’easter hit we were told they were closing because of the weather,” said Realmuto. “Here we had 50 gallons of soup. I looked at Mark and he said, ‘Let’s do a road trip and go to the Rockaways.’”
Smith jumped on Facebook, found the EEC page and the two drove off into rain and sleet to drop off soup throughout the Rockaways, many recipients having lost everything just a little more than a week before.
Realmuto and Smith remained involved with the food service relief efforts through EEC, which completed a total of three sandwich and lunch drives. On the third lunch drive two weeks ago, the St. Frances De Sales Parish in Belle Harbor informed the team an incredible offer had come through — 500 turkeys from Fairway Market.
But no one at the parish knew how to take on the monumental task of storing, defrosting and cooking the turkeys before they could be delivered into the hands of volunteers and distributed to those in need.
Cober, Realmuto and Smith asked for a minute, and then inquired about the quality of the product. After finding out the turkeys were fresh, they agreed to take on the task.
It actually ended up being 1,000 turkeys from Fairway, the first 300 promised to the Breezy Point Fire Department for families living in temporary housing.
For Cober, Realmuto and Smith, ensuring the safety of the food storage and preparation was critical. Quickly, the team found help from colleagues, including Charlotte Sasso of Stuart’s Seafood in Amagansett who helped store the turkeys in freezer space. Brian Gosman also chipped in a refrigeration truck, as did Ian Calder Piedmonte of Balsam Farms in Amagansett.
Gurney’s Inn, Dreesen’s Catering and Rudy DeSanti, Jr., Peter Ambrose’s Hampton Seafood Company, Bryan Futerman of Foody’s, Stony Brook University, as well as the staff of Honest Man restaurant group, Kieran Brew of the Amagansett Fire Department and Montauk Youth President Maureen Rutkowski also helped in the effort.
According to Realmuto, batches of 25, 50, 60 and even 200 birds were cooked off at a time, quickly brought west and delivered to drop points and warming stations by John Franco.
While the last of the first 500 were delivered today, Gualtieri said he expects another drop of 500 more turkeys some time in the next two weeks.
“The EEC’s role in all of this, and in everything we are doing, is to try and connect the dots and make sure things are getting to the right places and to the people who need it most,” said Gualtieri. “We are filling the gap and just trying to connect people.”
As Franco delivered the turkeys on Tuesday and Wednesday, he reported back to EEC that there has been a Red Cross cutback, making the turkeys that much more of a gift for warming stations throughout the Rockaways.
“Some were being served immediately, off the delivery truck,” reported Gualtieri via EEC’s Facebook page. “At one stop they went directly into a Boars-Head refrigeration truck parked at the Rockaway Fire Department. They are planning on serving it hot for tomorrow night’s dinner.”
For Realmuto, taking on the turkeys was a challenge, for sure, but as he prepared to butcher one of the last batches — the 60 smoked at Townline BBQ on Tuesday, the chef said despite the pressure involved helping to organize a project of this magnitude the need was simply undeniable.
“It’s a great team effort and we have a lot of people on the ground helping us out,” he said. “My wife asked me if I was going to do this again, and I said that I feel its selfish for me to sit in my nice, warm house and have a nice, warm meal when I know there are people out there who have lost everything and she agreed. We’re the lucky ones.”