I love reading stories about people who are simply inspiring, so I'm going to start sharing these stories here on my blog. This story was sent to me by my sister, Marilyn Tinker, who recently met Chef Joe Durio and learned his amazing story.
Chef Joe Durio – Blessing the people he served during Hurricane Katrina Recovery 2005-2006
Chef Joe Durio, a native of New Orleans, is famous for his Louisiana style, Authentic Creole Cuisine which promotes healthy eating for all ages, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. He has prepared food for the Queen of England and the Pope as well as celebrities, professional sports figures, politicians and entertainers. Chef Durio is an official Chef for the NBA, NFL and NCAA and has served as Executive Chef for numerous upscale establishments.
On August 24 2005, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Chef Durio was preparing food for his niece’s baby shower in Lafayette. He received a call from the Mayor asking if he could help with the recovery efforts and cook for the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).
He was immediately flown to New Orleans and set up a makeshift kitchen in a warehouse behind the Convention center where the NOPD had relocated their headquarters. BBQ pits and butane tanks salvaged from the disaster were the only resources he had to cook the hot meals and his Signature Gumbo for the recovery teams. Refrigerated ice cream trucks kept perishable products cold. In the beginning, he had access to the food from Harrah’s Hotel and Casino freezers. When this supply ran out, he used food that was donated to him from his friends and clients from all over the world. Chef Joe had a lot of friends on the police force. He commented, ”That hot meal was therapy for the police. They appreciated the fact that someone cared about them. They were not allowed to leave the city to be with their family during this crisis.”
Initially, he was serving the NOPD, but his services rapidly expanded to feeding state police from all 50 states, the Corps of Engineers, National Guard, insurance adjustors and the Red Cross volunteers among others. He was flown regularly to various locations (i.e. Houston and Lafayette) where medical personnel and FEMA were treating victims at the Astrodome and Cajundome. He served hot meals in various locations for hundreds to thousands of workers at each site, never staying in one place more than one day. He rotated among these places for an entire year, working tirelessly, without the aid of a regular staff, to ensure there was hot food available for all volunteers.
Mid-way through the year, he was also asked to cook at the police academy for new recruits that were enlisted to aid the effort. As a renowned licensed barber, since the age of 16, he would not only prepare food, but also he would cut their hair and give them a shave. During this entire time, he had to pay a lot of expenses out of pocket that depleted his family’s savings. He received no income during this period except when police officers were able to pay for his haircuts. Chef Joe was also a victim. He was married in June and he and his wife, lost everything in the disaster. “The place looked like a third world country that had been abandoned.” He did not find out, until after the fact, that he could have been partially compensated for his work from funds available through relief organizations.
He was not aware of any other chefs that were doing what he was doing. The chefs and caterers he came in contact with were cooking food and SELLING their meals to organizations and benefiting from what had happened.
One particularly incident remains a fond memory for Chef Durio.
He was catering for an event at the Hyatt Regency on the 4th of July 2005. He had leftover product and a friend of his told him that there was a group from New Jersey staying in the hotel that would greatly appreciate real New Orleans food. Chef Durio prepared some items and served their group where he met, Ingrid Sturgis, editor for Essence Magazine. When Katrina hit the next month, Ms. Sturgis immediately contacted her church and told them she had a “loved one”, Chef Joe Durio, in New Orleans that needed help. Her church generously continued to send money and gift cards to him, regularly, for the next two years. Chef Durio added, “Ms. Sturgis wound up being my guardian angel. When you make a friend, you don’t have to worry about other things. That church was MY FEMA.” To this day, Ms. Sturgis still reaches out and calls him. He says he still has people, most he does not even know, call him to graciously thank him and ask how is doing.
Clearly, Chef Durio has touched many lives through his compassionate, unselfish dedication to mankind. This was his way of coping with what had happened. “They (the volunteer workers) thought I was a blessing to them, but they were a blessing to me. The smiles they gave me was the therapy I needed to keep my mind off what I lost.” Recalling these events, 9 years later, evokes sensitive emotions. Chef remembers, “I had to see a lot of things that I could never repeat again.”
Today, Chef Durio believes First response teams are better equipped now to do their jobs. “This was a reality check. On that level, everyone was caught off guard. They had no idea. They had nothing for that type of situation in place.” If he had access to the product line that he has developed since then, a boil in a bag concept, he could have been able to feed these groups much easier and quicker.
Chef Durio received the 2006 Louisiana "Chef of the Year" award presented by the Governor's office, and the 2006 New Orleans, Louisiana "Chef of the Year" recognition from the Mayor’s office.
He had surgery last year to repair nerve damage in both hands and carpal tunnel syndrome caused by over exertion - cooking around the clock for an extensive period. However, he said he would do it again if the situation arises. He tells everyone, “Even when you are left with nothing, if you have life, you have more than a lot of other people. “
To learn more about Chef Joe Durio, visit his website: http://www.chefdurio.com/