Daniel Boulud's palate may have been tutored in France, but after more than three decades on the Manhattan restaurant scene, he thinks of New York as home. Providing nourishment to some of the city's senior residents is the mission of Citymeals-on-Wheels, Boulud's beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition.
"They focus on an important group in the community," Boulud says, "the elderly who may not be able to cook or shop anymore—who may not have family to care for them, but who still want to live in their homes and be a part of the community."
Citymeals-on-Wheels was founded in 1981 by the restaurant critic Gael Greene and the late chef James Beard. After reading newspaper articles about the city's seniors who were unable to leave their homes and were going hungry on Thanksgiving Day, these friends were moved to take action. Then as now, the Department for the Aging provided meals Monday through Friday—but not on holidays. Over a single weekend, Greene and Beard raised $35,000 from their colleagues in the food and restaurant industries, and today, the group's supporters form a who's who of the city's top chefs. Last year, Citymeals prepared and delivered more than 2 million meals to nearly 17,000 elderly New Yorkers. It will require $19 million to do the same this year.
Of the many chefs who support the program, however, Boulud stands out. In 1999, when he moved restaurant Daniel to the grand Mayfair Hotel, he celebrated with a dinner benefitting Citymeals. "From there," he recalls, "it has become a yearly tradition." In fact, says Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals, Boulud's annual Sunday Supper benefit at Daniel is one of the organization's top three fund-raising events. "He raises between $500,000 and $900,000 for us every year," she says. "Every New York opening of one of his restaurants, he does something to support Citymeals."
Boulud has also served on the board of directors at Citymeals since 2003, and he became a copresident in July. "From his heart, he cares about the people we nourish," Shapiro says. "Last fall, after Hurricane Sandy, he had all the chefs in each of his New York restaurants cook 50 to 100 meals. He and each of the executive chefs went with us to deliver them."
Now Boulud is planning to make that response a regular event, asking the many famous chefs who have come up through his kitchens to do what he did. "The idea is, once a month, one or two 'friends of Daniel' will cook meals for our elderly and go out on a delivery," Shapiro says. "They will see firsthand the real value of a simple meal." –David Lyon