Danny Chow, a semi-retired pastry chef who has spent his career feeding the rich, the famous and run of the mill wedding guests in Manhattan hotels, says the most satisfying meal he’s made recently are the desserts he bakes at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a social services organization in Chelsea that’s gearing up for a big Thanksgiving.
On Monday morning, Chow poured brownie batter into rows of baking pans.
“It’s all from real chocolate, real walnut and cherry. I make sure the product is fresh, and I make sure it’s not too much calorie, sugar, everything is homemade,” Chow said. “The best thing I ever heard from them is ‘I never had a brownie like this before.’”
The kitchens at GMHC have been filled with about 20 volunteers in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, preparing enough food to feed 500 people.
Many of the volunteers bring years of high-end kitchen experience to the non-profit. GMHC runs also runs health clinics and a food pantry to serve about 9,000 men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Philip Filiato, a retired chef and Broadway performer who has prepared continental cuisine at Lincoln Center, and ran the Hamilton Club in Patterson, N.J., is doing prep work for the kitchen’s chefs.
“I add my knowledge to whatever is going on here in the kitchen … whatever they need me to do, I do it,” said Filiato, who’s been working in kitchens since he was 15.
“They need help, and I don’t mind helping,” he said.
Food security is a top issue for GMHC’s clients, and an estimated two out of five New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS don’t have enough food, according to a 2013 study by the Mailman School of Health at Columbia University.
Chef Gloria Flores, who recently began working full-time at GMHC after years of volunteering, said her team was preparing more than 300 pounds of turkey, and thousands of pounds of traditional and Southern-inspired sides, for Thanksgiving.
Flores said she wanted to volunteer because her brother died from AIDS in the 1980s. She said she didn’t know what had killed her brother until more than a year after his death, and this “loneliness” made her want to give back.
Charity Diaz, part time volunteer at the center, has spent the past five years serving people at GMHC, including holiday meals.
“Helping any community is very important, but when you’re not part of that community — I’m straight, I don’t have the virus, I think it’s even more important, because there’s that connection,” Diaz said. “There’s a sense of gratitude, also knowing that I’m not part of their community, per se.”