Sonoma County Chefs Respond to Kincade Fire

Dani Wilcox helps to prepare food at Valette. (Heather Irwin/Press Democrat)

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by Heather Irwin

If Chef Dustin Valette looks a bit relaxed while making sandwiches for 60, it’s only because he’s lived with a first responder his whole life.

The Healdsburg restaurateur snapped into action early this morning, coordinating food relief efforts for evacuees before 10 a.m. — just about the time his dad, Bob Valette, was “wheels up” on a tanker jet headed out of Sonoma County airport to fight the Kincade Fire that is still uncontained near Geyserville.

Chef Dustin Valette of Valette Restaurant in Healdsburg delivering food to the Healdsburg Community Center.
Chef Dustin Valette of Valette Restaurant in Healdsburg delivering food to the Healdsburg Community Center. (Heather Irwin/Press Democrat)

Though this fire pales in comparison to the Tubbs and Camp Fires — at least at this point — it’s a scary reminder of our new reality. With power out to thousands, news came in the middle of the night that a fire had sparked in northern Sonoma County. At this moment, it is an estimated 10,000 acres.

Valette is working with Chef Kyle Connaughton of Single Thread (which will be closed tonight, Oct, 24), Catelli’s Domenica Catelli (also closed tonight), and helpers from the community (Costeaux provided the bread) to feed the approximately 60 people at the Healdsburg Community Center taking refuge from the fires. They plan to serve about 200 tonight.

Dani Wilcox helps to prepare food at Valette.
Dani Wilcox helps to prepare food at Valette. (Heather Irwin/Press Democrat)

As he packed up his car with sandwiches–made with long loaves of fresh French bread, heirloom tomatoes from his own garden, meat and cheese from his restaurant kitchen — he realized the irony of such fancy sandwiches in an emergency. But that’s what he does, and that’s what he knows. And food, after all, is love. And a good sandwich takes just as long to make as a bad one.

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It’s still unknown what will happen in the coming days…but restaurateurs are ready. The local food community, including Valette and many others, offered thousands of man hours, kitchens, food, and support activated during the 2017 fires.

Chefs Dustin Valette and Ken Rochioli.
Chefs Dustin Valette and Ken Rochioli. (Heather Irwin/Press Democrat)

As I’ve learned personally, it’s a fine line between helping and being in the way, and aid organizers are relying on vetted food providers to assist during this time. I went to several agencies and Red Cross stations today, and most are saying that it is “early hours” and they are watching the situation to best inform coordinated responses.

At the Cal Fire command center at the Jockey Club near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, their own mobile kitchen is ready to feed first responders. They are currently standing by as the situation progresses. No one was able to speak in an official capacity, but the Cal Fire mobile kitchen was on site in 2017 to feed hundreds of first responders at the Fairgrounds.

Chef Ken Rochioli gets interviewed by a reporter at the Healdsburg Community Center.
Chef Ken Rochioli gets interviewed by a reporter at the Healdsburg Community Center. (Heather Irwin/Press Democrat)

Also on standby is a kitted-out mobile kitchen built by Guy Fieri after the Tubbs Fire. The kitchen can serve thousands. The team, which has worked with Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen, and the kitchen can be onsite and ready to feed people within an hour of activation. Currently, the kitchen is on standby as they await instructions from CalFire. Jose Andres tweeted this morning that he was here for Sonoma County if needed.

As Valette brought the sandwiches to the community center, surrounded by smoke and crawling with reporters, he smiled as his friend Ken Rochioli of KR Catering pulled up with more trays of food. Rochioli was stopped by reporters for an interview. Valette snuck by, saying that he needed to get back to his restaurant because he had an entirely new menu to prepare at the restaurant this evening. Not to mention helping with dinner for 200 at the shelter.

“What else do I have to do?” he grins.

Sonoma Family Meal has activated for this emergency and is monitoring the situation to see where we can best help our community during this situation. Heather Irwin is the founder of Sonoma Family Meal.

This article originally appeared in Sonoma Magazine.

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