Through Chef David Guas’ Mobilization Efforts, 30,000 Plant-Based Meals Have Been Delivered to Local Students and Families.
By Dara Klatt and Anna Poulson
Inspired by his New Orleans heritage, Chef David Guas’s traditional southern cuisine, like beignets, buttermilk biscuits and King Cake, have smitten regulars of his Arlington-based Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. To Guas, who has appeared on the Food Network, the Cooking Channel and NBC’s “The Today Show,” the focus is not only providing delicious cooking but also serving up southern hospitality. This hearty helping of generosity is what led Guas to create the initiative “Chefs Feeding Families” this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in 2005, Guas saw first hand how Hurricane Katrina impacted his hometown and the importance of rapid response in rebuilding the community. In March 2020, when COVID-19 closed school doors, he knew he needed to provide the same fast-acting relief to area children and families left underserved. Partnering with Real Food for Kids, Guas established the “Chefs Feeding Families” platform to give meals to children and their families during the school shutdown. Apart from his heralded confections, he created plant-based, nutrient-rich food for those in need of regular meals. In the first ten days, he distributed over 1,700 meals. Other chefs and restaurants like Silver Diner and Pizzeria Paradiso, inspired by the efforts, soon joined in. Today, nearly 30,000 free grab-and-go free meals have now been delivered.
With distance learning coming to an end for summer, we caught up with Guas to discuss the impact of his community outreach, learn how others can join in or donate to the efforts, and get a few tips — along the lines of honey and Pappy Van Winkle Barrel-aged Maple Syrup (!) — for our own home cooking efforts.
WL: You started Chefs Feeding Families early on in the pandemic. How did you manage the immediate response and how has it changed since its inception?
Guas: As a New Orleans native whose family and community has been impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina – I am all too familiar with the importance of fast-acting relief. In many ways the initial goal has not changed – to provide the kids and families affected by the school closures free, plant-based nutritious meals every weekday. However, what began as a rapid response has evolved into a long-term and wider-reaching effort – Chefs Feeding Families. Due to increasing demand and need, we are continuing to grow with additional distribution sites in the region.
WL: What kind of response have you seen from the community and the students and families benefiting from your mission of providing grab-and-go meals?
Guas: It’s been incredible to witness the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors whether it’s financial support or a friendly honk when driving by to let us know they are thinking of us! The response from students and families has been so sincere and heartfelt – just a smile or a thank you means the world in times like this.
WL: Bayou Bakery, your cookbook, and much of your experience as a chef are directly influenced from the heritage of your home town, New Orleans. How has the COVID-19 outbreak in NO affected you from afar?
Guas: It’s really tough to see my native city going through this – I still have family and close friends living in the city, so it does feel personal.
WL: Bayou Bakery is a staple to the community. How difficult was it for you to make the decision to close ‘Call-In, Carry-Out’ service and why was it necessary?
Guas: Curtailing the three weeks of ‘Call-In, Carry-Out’ service for the general public was a tough decision – but remaining open was no longer sustainable. As people hunkered deeper down to shelter-in-place and flatten the curve, I also felt it was important to take every precaution and protect the safety of my staff and patrons.
WL: Since Bayou Bakery partnered with Real Food for Kids to create Chefs Feeding Families, additional local restaurants like Silver Diner and Pizzeria Paradiso have joined your efforts and supporters of your initiative have donated over $45,000 to help make your mission possible. Are you surprised to see such overwhelming support and do you expect to see this support expand even more over the next few weeks?
Guas: It’s been wonderful to experience the support for our mission so that we can continue to feed kids and their families. However, it’s also difficult to predict the future – in times like this every contribution big or small allows us to continue.
WL: How can people interested in supporting your mission contribute to Chefs Feeding Families or to providing nutritious grab-and-go meals to families in need in their own communities?
Guas: I encourage everyone to visit the Real Foods for Kids website for information on how to support the mission either with either financial or volunteer support.
WL: You emphasize that the meals you are distributing through Chefs Feeding Families are plant-based, protein-rich and nutritious meals. How important is it for children and their families to maintain a healthy diet in these trying times?
Guas: As the father of two teenage boys – I know the importance of a nutritious meal firsthand and the science supports it. I’ve worked alongside Real Food for Kids years to raise awareness on the subject for many years. During this time, everyone has taken on additional stress – eating right impacts mental health and it helps give your brain the fuel it needs.
I took the plant-based approach because I wanted kids and families with a broad range of religious beliefs and dietary restrictions to be able to enjoy the meals being provided. This strategy has allowed us to reach even more students.
WL: How do you preserve hospitality through Bayou Bakery both during the COVID-19 outbreak and on a regular business day?
Guas: We try to cultivate a culture of positivity – even if it’s something small, like warmly greeting people with a good morning or good afternoon. As an independently owned and owned small business with a foundation in the south, we truly value the guest and the guest experience. This thoughtful and personal approach is integral in our training process when someone joins the team.
WL: Do you have a favorite homemade recipe of yours that you would recommend for those interested in trying something new?
Guas: I was cleaning out my pantry and found a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Barrel-aged Maple Syrup. It’s a great addition to a lot of things, but it makes a great addition when it comes to flavoring Brussel Sprouts. I’ll prepare the Brussel Sprouts much like I do Braised Greens. I’ll add some Cane Syrup Vinegar with sauteed vegetables in chicken stock. Let’s just say, I’ve almost polished off the bottle of syrup.
WL: You’ve expressed how honey is an essential in your kitchen. Why is this? What are three essential items for budding chefs to have in their home?
Guas: Honey is a prized pantry possession – it has no expiration date, it’s a natural emulsifier, and it adds body to a lot of different flavors. And, my three essentials include:
- Handheld Immersion Blender:I love the versatility of this tool. It’s my go-to tool at home — from frothing a suance to blending quick purees. It’s easy to use and clean. With multiple applications it’s great to use when you don’t need the full power of blender!
- Microplane – This is so useful, I have two! I’ll use one to zest citrus and the other for whole spices.
- Salt – I recommend a couple different salts from various origins and regions for different flavoring. Maldon Sea Salt or Black Lava Salt are just a few of my favorites.
Since the initial launch on March 17, Chefs Feeding Families has expanded to serve additional communities in the region through the help of Silver Diner and Pizzeria Paradisio. To help Chefs Feeding Families’ mission through volunteering or financial support, visit https://www.realfoodforkids.org/programs/chefs-feeding-families/.