Cooking for a Cause

Flatbreads are one of the signature dishes that are easily adapted by guest chefs.
Flatbreads are one of the signature dishes that are easily adapted by guest chefs. Brian Samuels Photography

Paul Turano is inviting more cooks into his kitchen and all for good causes. As executive chef and owner of two restaurants, he had little time to be out in the community supporting local charities. His solution? Bring charitable opportunities to his restaurants. In October, Chef Turano hosted the first “Cook for Charity” event at Cook, his American bistro in Newton, Massachusetts.

“I came up with the event because I wanted to support other organizations and leverage some of the relationships that we have so we can draw as much attention to [the causes] as possible,” he says.

Chef Turano and his team bolster the “Cook for Charity” series by inviting local celebrities from other professions to serve as guest chefs for the evening. To ring in the 2015 year, Emmy Award–winning meteorologist Nelly Carreño joined staff in the Cook kitchen on Jan. 28.

In addition to assembling the restaurant’s signature flatbreads, the New England Cable News anchor designed a one-night-only option aptly dubbed The Nelly, topped with crumbled chorizo, poblano pepper, Goat Cheese crema, and Mozzarella, served with fingerling potato chips and priced at $15. All sales from The Nelly, totaling a few hundred dollars, went to Carreño’s charity of choice: a shelter for disadvantaged and homeless women called Rosie’s Place.

Ironically, the timing of the event proved fortuitous because a powerful nor’easter, coined Winter Storm Juno, peaked during the week of the occasion.

“With the huge snowstorm we had, Nelly was working around the clock the two days leading up to the event,” Chef Turano says of Carreño. “She hadn’t slept but still made a point to come out and cook with us.”

Aside from garnering obvious goodwill, the local celebrity spotlight also sparks press and conversation, which attract additional business to Cook.

“I think that’s part of its success,” Chef Turano says of the charity series. “[The guest chefs] are getting the word out to their followers, as is the charity, so it really broadens our reach. Each of our guests has been tremendous, and we’re so lucky to have had them.”

In April, Cook hosted another celebrity chef, bringing in the mayor of Newton, Setti Warren.

It’s a lot of fun,” Chef Turano says. “Everyone comes in thinking they will be a horrible chef … but once they assemble a flatbread or two, they loosen up and have a blast.”

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