Pittsburgh's best-known chefs to team with 'buddy' sous chefs

Twenty-one of Pittsburgh’s best-known chefs have signed on for a fundraiser where they will work alongside “buddy” sous chefs who have developmental disabilities.

Most chef fundraisers simply require chefs to donate food. This one is more involved. Chefs typically meet with their “buddies” several times to plan their dishes, practice cooking them, or just spend social time together.

Best Buddies Pennsylvania is a nonprofit organization that creates community involvement opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. Tastebuds, which will be held Nov. 8 at David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, is its biggest fundraiser on this side of the state. Chefs and their buddies will plate and serve their dishes and interact with attendees.

Because of his personal connections with Best Buddies, Joey Hilty, owner of The Vandal in Lawrenceville, will participate along with executive chef Csilla Thackray. Mr. Hilty’s older brother, Jordan, was a member of a Best Buddies club while in high school, so “I spent a lot of time when I was growing up seeing the work Best Buddies had done,” he said.

Mr. Hilty and Ms. Thackray invited their buddy, John Mozeik, to The Vandal to help out with a recent Sunday brunch.

“He has a super positive attitude,” Mr. Hilty said.

“Buddies” are equally enthusiastic about this fundraiser. Tommy Kreutzer, who is paired with Derek Stevens of Union Standard, works as a dishwasher and occasionally in food prep at Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe at the North Park Boathouse. He heard about Tastebuds through his membership in the Duquesne University chapter of Best Buddies. There, individuals with developmental disabilities form relationships with Duquesne students and spend social time together at events such as the university’s football games, holiday parties and a trip to see “Disney on Ice.” When Mr. Kreutzer heard about Tastebuds, he immediately knew he wanted to be part of it.

Similarly, Abby Molinaro, a sophomore and member of the Best Buddies Club at Hampton High School, loves to make cheeseburgers, pasta and chicken dishes at home and hopes eventually to work in the culinary field. Her mom, Lori, said chef Justin Severino of Cure and Morcilla, has been great about adapting his ideas for their Tastebuds dish to make it something Abby will enjoy helping to prepare.

The fundraising goal for the event is weighty: $75,000 to $100,000.  But as of press time, the event had already raised more money than last year’s post-event total. The number of participating chefs also has expanded from 17 last year to 23 this year.

Matthew Sousa, director of Best Buddies Pennsylvania, credits the close-knit food community in Pittsburgh with his success in finding chef participants.

“Clearly, there are numerous events that they’re asked to do, and this one is asking them to commit to another human being,” Mr. Sousa said. “We are very fortunate to live in a community of chefs who really and truly care about Pittsburgh and care about each other.”

Other chefs participating in Tastebuds are Kate Lasky, co-owner of Apteka; Justin Steel, chef and owner of Bar Marco; Robert “RC” Carter, executive chef of Cioppino Restaurant & Cigar Bar; Dominique Carnovale Metcalfe, executive chef of David L. Lawrence Convention Center; Chad Townsend, owner of Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream; Meghann Walsh, pastry chef of Osteria 2350; Nick Mineo, owner of Sausalido; Jamilka Borges, executive chef of Spoon; Steve Morehouse, executive chef of Studio A.M.; Kevin Sousa, chef and owner of Superior Motors; Alex Balint, executive chef of Twelve Whiskey; Bill Fuller, corporate chef for Big Burrito Group; Steve Lanzilotti, executive chef of Talia Cucina; Dave Anoia, co-owner and chef  of DiAnoia’s Eatery; Matt Stover, executive chef of Il Pizzaiolo; Adam and Diana Kucenic, owners of Muddy Waters Oyster Bar; Juan Gonzalez, executive chef and co-owner of Pallantia; and Jessica Lewis, chef at Or, the Whale.

Most buddies are in their early to mid-20s, although a handful are older or younger.

Each team will bring a different small bite to share at the event, which serves not only as a fundraiser but also as an empowerment vehicle for the buddy chefs. The 600 to 700 attendees will see that “this is a group of people with real-life abilities, working side-by-side with chefs and holding their own,” Matthew Sousa said.

Tastebuds will run from 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 8. Tickets are $100 each. The evening includes chefs’ and buddies’ small bites, an open bar, silent and live auction items and live music. For tickets: bestbuddies.org/tastebudspgh/.

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com; @pgfoodevents.


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