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Casino chefs out of work due to coronavirus are using their skills to feed those in need

NJ.com logo NJ.com 6/17/2020 By Chris Franklin and Tim Hawk, nj.com
a group of people standing in a room: Brou Quinn, a private chef, moves a container filled with meals, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. © Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Brou Quinn, a private chef, moves a container filled with meals, Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

More than an hour away from his normal confines at Gordon Ramsay Steak inside Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, Executive Chef Larry Smith stands in a kitchen with sous chefs Kelly Wright and Paul Hanley at South Philly Barbacoa, on 9th Street in the City of Brotherly Love.

a person cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Sous Chef Paul Hanley passes a container of creamy polenta to Wright, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. © Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Sous Chef Paul Hanley passes a container of creamy polenta to Wright, Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

In the background, the steady hum of a fan acts as background noise while volunteers pack bread pudding and lay them on tables.

Working as an assembly line, a crew of out-of-work Harrah’s culinary professionals, put in a full day as if they were full-time, making anywhere between 200 and 250 meals - plating the polenta, followed by sautéed broccoli rabe that was drizzled with olive oil and garlic.

Finally, the sausage is placed on top right before it is covered for the people to enjoy.

The food is for people in need, and the team from the Harrah’s-based restaurant has been cooking them since late March, when the coronavirus shut down restaurants and casinos.

Smith learned of the volunteer project from another chef, and he and his staff were in.

“This experience has been really rewarding in ways that I don’t think any of us knew, and we cannot wait to come back here every week because we know that we are helping people a lot and we get to continue our craft when everyone else is kind of stuck at home,” Smith told NJ Advance Media.

a group of people preparing food in a kitchen: Harrah's Resort Atlantic City Executive Chef Larry Smith of Gordon Ramsay Steak, center, helps plate meals Tuesday, June 16, 2020. © Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Harrah's Resort Atlantic City Executive Chef Larry Smith of Gordon Ramsay Steak, center, helps plate meals Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Working with the staff of South Philly Barbacoa, the Smith and his team put together meal plans and cook them in one of the restaurant’s kitchens. The meals go to other organizations and churches that assist with feeding those who need a meal.

World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization started by chef José Andrés, and created to help provide meals for those in need, donated money for the team to buy groceries used to cook each day, with the produce coming from the nearby Giordano Italian Market, a South Philly produce staple.

"When you know you are helping, it is very satisfying," Hanley said. "Sometimes, when you work in a regular restaurant or in the casino, people do not really necessarily appreciate some of the work that goes into it. You know for a fact that every one that is receiving food is really appreciative. It makes you feel good, and you want to keep doing it."

a person preparing food in a kitchen: Sous Chef Kelly Wright, of Gordon Ramsay Steak, removes Italian sweet sausage from the oven, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. © Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Sous Chef Kelly Wright, of Gordon Ramsay Steak, removes Italian sweet sausage from the oven, Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Caesars Entertainment, who operates Harrah’s, has also donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to help with those impacted by the coronavirus through its Caesars Cares Foundation, as well as nearly 20 other organizations.

a person cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Executive Chef Larry Smith of Gordon Ramsay Steak at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City helps plate meals to feed those in the Philadelphia area who are food insecure, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. © Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com/nj.com/TNS Executive Chef Larry Smith of Gordon Ramsay Steak at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City helps plate meals to feed those in the Philadelphia area who are food insecure, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Although Smith and his team are not in their main jobs right now, they are focusing on the meals they prepare and putting smiles on the faces of people who receive them, he said.

He said he hopes that even when the casinos and the restaurants reopen, that the program can continue on in some form, or that people will donate to the World Central Kitchen or Caesars Cares.

“This experience has been really rewarding in ways that I don’t think any of us knew, and we cannot wait to come back here every week because we know that we are helping people a lot and we get to continue our craft when everyone else is kind of stuck at home.”

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Chris Franklin may be reached at cfranklin@njadvancemedia.com.

Tim Hawk may be reached at thawk@njadvancemedia.com.

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