The library of Rundlett Middle School will be transformed into a gourmet restaurant for one night to raise money for the rebuilding of the Friendly Kitchen in Concord. The Friendly Kitchen, run out of Hope House, was destroyed in an early morning fire on April 30. When the blaze broke out, the dinner volunteers at the Kitchen temporarily moved the operation to a nearby church.
“Our mission goes on. We’ve never missed a meal; we are never going to miss a meal,” said Friendly Kitchen board member Bruce Parish, owner of Hermanos Cocina Mexicana in Concord.
Associated Press food editor J.M. Hirsch, of Concord, has spearheaded the efforts to pull together a pop-up restaurant in the Capital City as a fundraiser for the Kitchen. The Dinner for Hope will be held at the middle school on Sunday, June 12, with seatings at 4 and 7 p.m.
“We’ve all encountered our fair share of rubber chicken fundraising dinners; those are all forgettable,” Hirsch said. “We wanted to do something really exciting … I wanted to take it further and have a fun event so people would be that much more enthused about lending a hand.”
Pop-up restaurants, Hirsch noted, are very popular on the West Coast and in New York City and Boston.
“I haven’t encountered anything like that in New Hampshire, so it is a great opportunity to try it out,” Hirsch said. “I also like the symbolism of it — we’re using donated food, donated time ... and are creating something from nothing, much like they do [at the Friendly Kitchen].”
Hirsch likes the challenge of putting together such a project. “We can build something so meaningful for one night that can feed so many people for so many nights,” he said.
The disadvantage of organizing such an event in the Granite State, Hirsch said, is that pop-up restaurants are typically housed in warehouses or “funky venues” with industrial kitchens. He looked at setting up an eatery in airplane hangar but there was no commercial kitchen available nearby. He also considered building a kitchen, which he said would have been fun but did not fit into the desired time frame. Organizers finally decided on holding the dinner at a local school.
“We don’t think schools are associated with a high-end restaurant, they are usually associated with bad lunch food, and we like the irony of that,” Hirsch said. After gaining permission from the city and school district, the group settled on Rundlett Middle School, citing its layout and facilities as most appropriate for their project. They decided to hold the dinner in the school library.
“We thought, how neat would it be eat a five-course meal sitting amongst the stacks?” Hirsch said. Volunteers from the local arts community have stepped up to decorate and create centerpieces for the space and transform it into a 100-seat dining room.
“There is just an army of people dedicating their time and energy to make this happen,” Hirsch said.
While the menu has not been set yet, Hirsch said chefs Alison Laden of Buckley’s Great Steaks in Merrimack, Adam Olson of Greenwood’s at Canterbury Shaker Village and Joseph DeVita from Hirsch’s AP kitchen will create five upscale school-food themed courses. “Don’t be surprised if they’re inspired by the tater tots of the world,” Hirsch said.
Parish said the Friendly Kitchen board of directors still must appear at a planning board hearing and city council meeting to gain approval on rebuilding plans. The board has already met with the Kitchen’s abutters and is keeping them updated on all available information.
Hirsch said it was difficult to calculate a fundraising goal but he hopes for the dinner to bring in $15,000 to $20,000 between ticket sales, donations and a silent auction.
“We still don’t have a figure on the total cost; we are just at a standstill point waiting for the process to proceed,” Parish said. “Everyone been great working with us and are speeding things up as much as they can.”
“We do realize we are asking a lot of the city to help us do this quickly, but the city knows full well how important our mission is and that there’s no one else to do what we do,” he said. “We served almost 60,000 meals last year … a lot of people depend on us.”
Meals are now being served from the basement of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, which Parish said has allowed for the focus to be on the rebuilding efforts.
“This just shows what a community of caring people can do when they put their minds to it,” Hirsch said. “This is how the Friendly Kitchen has gone on for so long and done so much.”