Laura Fonner, the chef at Duner’s, joins three other chefs to compete in a holiday cook-off on Guy’s Grocery Games, the popular Food Network Show that’s been running for 18 seasons. The challenge: to make a holiday pork dish from the ingredients celebrity chef Guy Fieri chooses. They’ll also receive a food budget to spend at Guy’s famous “Flavortown Market” and face off against each other to earn a shopping spree worth $20,000.
Fonner’s charity is PACEM, the local effort she supports by coordinating the area chefs and suppliers who provide evening meals for the homeless every Tuesday. That’s about 70 meals at two different locations, Fonner said. She’s grateful that suppliers, including farmers, vendors and her fellow chefs, collaborate on the hot meals served to both the women and the men who find themselves without shelter on bitter winter nights.
What happens when there aren’t any volunteers from other restaurant kitchens? That’s when Fonner delivers her own cooking. So far favorite meals have been rainbrow trout (thanks to Ragged Mountain Trout for that, she said) and a number of Asian dishes. “Nothing over the top,” she said. “Just great from-scratch cooking.”
Fonner not only cooks but serves the meals, bringing her children with her to help, so they can learn that helping people is just a part of life and not a once-a-year thing. “I didn’t come from a wealthy background,” she said. “I needed lots of help when I found myself a single mother at the age of 19, so I know how hard and taxing it can be to struggle. I was fortunate to have my mother but not all people are so lucky.” The homeless gather at The Haven in Charlottesville and rotate to different churches in the area each week during the winter. When Laura and her friends and colleagues aren’t cooking, area congregations and neighbors step up with meals for the evening. It’s an ecumenical effort, with 33 different churches housing, feeding and entertaining the 200 or so souls that find themselves without a place to sleep in the winter.
The show’s producers found Fonner while looking for chefs who use their talents for charity to cast for a special holiday show. After that, she had to go through the same vetting process as all contestants. In the competition, chefs have 30 minutes to shop for, prepare, and plate each dish. The rest of the show is devoted to getting to know the chefs and watching them face the judges.
Guy Fieri himself donates thousands of pounds food each year to food-related charities in Santa Rosa, where the show is produced.
Root for Fonner Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. Meanwhile, find out ways to support PACEM by visiting pacemshelter.org, and learn more about Laura’s experience with Guy in the January Gazette.