In Gotham, heroes wear many different kinds of masks

Among the chefs cooking there, it’s playfully called the Bat Cave. That’s all we know, and that’s all chefs Allison Fasano and John Brill want us to know.

But somewhere in New York – a city often likened to Gotham – Fasano, Brill and half a dozen other chefs are playing the role of masked hero. Well, socially distanced masked heroes.

Unwilling to share their secret location, (and benefactor, Bruce Wayne?), this cadre of culinarians is up at 3 a.m. — seven days a week — and cooking to feed frontline workers. It started at about 250 meals a day. Then it became 500. Now it’s up to about 1,500.

“When you cook for people, it’s usually for positive reasons or a celebration,” said Brill, a longtime New York chef. “That’s what hospitality is all about. But that’s not what this is about. This is about providing a service to help people who are working longer and harder than we are. We wanted to stand up and do our jobs and do our part.”

Their part involves feeding doctors, nurses, military, Homeland Security and other frontline/healthcare workers at various COVID-19 testing sites throughout New York. And it’s not one-size-fits all catering. They are doing breakfasts, lunches and dinners that include Keto, vegetarian and vegan options. And they are being individually plated.

“A fire needs wood, a car needs gas and these people are working longer and harder hours than Allison and I are,” Brill said. “We’re trying to give them the fuel they need to succeed. This isn’t a cookie-cutter deal. Allison and I take great pride in what we do. This is a selfless act from all of the chefs we are working with who only want to bring good, quality food to people who deserve it.”

New York has suffered far greater from the COVID-19 pandemic than any other state, accounting for one-third of U.S. deaths. Fasano is a born-and-raised New Yorker who has held several prestigious cooking positions throughout the city and Long Island. Likewise, Brill is a longtime New Yorker who has made the rounds in multiple executive chef roles.

The impact on what’s happening to their city is personal. So is the willingness to do whatever they can to help.

“I think at one time or another all chefs go on a journey,” Fasano said. “I think this is a journey John and I never imagined we’d be taking. When we try to explain to people what we’re doing – 1,500 individual meals cooked and plated per day done by 4-6 people – I don’t think people outside of the business can really grasp what that means.”

But for the people they are feeding, it means the world. A doctor or nurse might be coming off of a 20-hour shift — that’s been emotionally and physically draining – can be re-energized by the simple gesture of a plated meal that’s vegan, or nationality-specific.

“Food crosses over generations, nationalities and age groups because it brings people together,” Brill said. “That’s why we’ve really seen the culinary community rise up across the country. Our industry has been devastated by this horrible virus. We know already that there are a lot of people who aren’t coming back from this.

“But you dig in and you do what you can for however long you can. We have no idea how long this ride will go. But for us, we’re sticking with it for however long we can to help those on the front line be successful.”

Neither Brill nor Fasano have much of a background in catering – so the meals en masse was a small adjustment. But even though the hours are brutal, Fasano (a Feb. 2019 Chef of Chef Works) is relishing the time spent in the kitchen doing what she loves with friends.

“John and I have worked together before and when you work with someone who makes you laugh, I think you can kind of forget what’s happening in the background and just enjoy doing what you love,” she said. “You’re going to work and you’re cooking like any other job.

“But then you remember the big picture. You remember why you’re here and what’s happening. It’s a sad-wake up call because none of us ever expected something like this. You just do what you can to make as much of a difference as possible.”


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