This is a repost of something I wrote last year, September 11, 2013. My blog was still in its infancy, yet I wanted to write something about a positive experience that came out from that horrible attack on our nation in 2001. When thinking about what to post for today, it only seemed fitting that I give to the memory of 9/11, the people who died, and the families of those lost loved ones. I knew two people who died on that day. Both of them happen to work at The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World – Windows on the World. Below is the repost from last year.
Believe me when I say that I was all set to write a fantastic blog post about greasy burgers in Chicago. I had my pictures all lined up and ready to go, and I had my burger joint anecdotes in mind. It was going to be a KILLER blog post that would set the foodie world on fire. That changed though when an old friend of mine contacted me on Facebook. We worked together at Tru Restaurant back in the early 2000’s as sous chefs, and we both had a unique bond other than working together at Tru:
We both knew someone who died on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York City.
Of the nearly 3,000 people who perished on that day, 79 of them were employees of Windows on the World – the famous restaurant atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Porters, cooks, pastry chef, servers, an assistant sommelier, our friend and AM Manager Christine Olender; all were working diligently that morning, doing breakfast service as they did every day.
That’s when I knew that I had to write about an event that happened on January 27, 2012 at Tru Restaurant. It was an event to benefit the James Beard Foundation and Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, a scholarship program for families of food-service workers killed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The event was a dinner featuring chefs from Chicago and New York City, including Michael Lomonaco – executive chef of Windows on the World.
While there were somber moments throughout the evening, it was more of a time to celebrate the lives of those employees who died on that morning. Chef Lomonaco was eager to share stories of the staff members that he lost, as well as his own personal tribute to them with the food that he served that evening at Tru. It was clear that he was still processing everything that happened on that day, including his own story of how he wasn’t at the restaurant that morning because of an eyeglass appointment. Otherwise, he told us, he would have more than likely been in the restaurant, and one of those that perished.
Everyone who was around on September 11 can probably remember with detail where they were when the World Trade Center was attacked. It’s 12 years later, and I still remember that morning; I was at Tru, accepting deliveries and planning the day for the rest of the kitchen staff. I didn’t realize what was going on until our event coordinator came downstairs in a panic, telling me that the first tower was struck by a plane. We ran upstairs to the office, and watched the second tower struck by a second plane. A few minutes after that, we heard sirens outside the building, presumably headed to the John Hancock Building (Tru is just a few blocks away), and we thought Chicago was under attack. We later found out, that it was the police headed in a rush to the Hancock as a precaution. Every major building and monument in the US was on high alert.
Thinking back though to the Windows of Hope event at Tru, it was a great way for us to truly understand what Michael Lomonaco, and thousands of other New Yorkers went through on that morning. It was a way for us to get together, laugh, eat, drink, and continue the healing process of the attacks and the lives lost on that day. The highlight of the event for us was when Chef Lomonaco arrived for the with FDNY and NYPD baseball hats for all of us to have.
On any other night, we would be wearing the traditional tall, white “toque” in the kitchen. After we got our hats, we all kind of looked at each other, took of our toques, and donned the baseball hats right there in the kitchen. It was obvious that Chef Lomonaco was taken aback by what he was seeing. I think he expected us to just take our hats home with us as “souvenirs” of the event. However, we all knew that it would be a greater tribute to wear those hats in honor of the police and firemen who lost their lives trying to save lives. It’s the least we could do.
After the meal was over, all of us (chefs and kitchen staff) walked out to the dining room to be applauded by the guests who were present for the event. It was a thunderous applause, to say the least. I like to think that the applause was for Chef Lomonaco, and the appreciation for him coming to Chicago so soon after he lost so many of his staff. I also like to think that they were applauding us for the FDNY and NYPD hats we were wearing. But mostly, I think that they were applauding the lives of those that were lost on that September morning. Standing there in the dining room, being applauded by the 100 guests, I noticed that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – including mine.