Two of the Cajun Gravy’s co-founders, Brett Dunham and Cherish Hope. Photo by Collin Richie.

Soul food: Cajun Gravy serves up comfort

As Hurricane Harvey churned in the Gulf with the Texas coast in its crosshairs, many in Baton Rouge knew that an all-too-familiar scene of water-induced disaster was about to play out for Louisiana’s neighbors to the west.  Before the rain began to fall on Corpus Christi, Rockport and Houston, Louisianans were mobilizing; some with boats and trailers, others with pots and pans to do disaster response the only way they know how.

“For the people that helped us, we want to return that favor and help them back,” says Kyle Rome, owner of Kickstands Kitchen catering with fiancé Brittany Moreau, and one of the founders of the Cajun Gravy.

Much like the Cajun Navy, the Cajun Gravy is the product of citizen action in the face of disaster when a grassroots group of cooks and local business owners from Baton Rouge, Central, Gonzales and Donaldsonville came together to donate equipment, time and culinary talent to prepare hot meals— like red beans and rice and jambalaya—for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

A simple Facebook post quickly grew into an organized volunteer effort after a friend announced she was collecting supplies to send to Texas before the storm even hit. Rome told her he’d drive any donations she collected to the Lone Star State, along with his catering equipment to prepare meals for those in the path of destruction. An hour later, Brett Dunham, another friend and the owner of Le Chien Brewing Company (opening soon in Baton Rouge), called and said he had a 10-gallon pot and monetary donations to help him cook for storm victims.

They merged their supplies, spread the word about their trip, and four days later headed west with five trucks, 70 feet of enclosed trailer space, about $7,000 in donations and thousands of cases of water.  By that time, they’d created a Facebook page and adopted the name “Cajun Gravy,” suggested by one of Rome’s catering colleagues while they were loading up their supplies.

“We were mobilized at the state line with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries before the hurricane had even passed yet, waiting to go into Texas,” Rome says.

For the next five and a half days, the 20 volunteers of the Cajun Gravy served upwards of 19,000 meals to first responders, National Guard troops, law enforcement and anyone else who needed a hot lunch or dinner.

“The focus of the Cajun Gravy is that we feed everyone,” Rome says. “But we do focus on first responders and civil service in the first phase of the response.”

The group prides itself on serving up soul food with a little Cajun flare. And since the storm, they’ve made multiple trips to Texas to feed people recovering and rebuilding.

“We are in it to feed our souls,” Rome says, adding that he hopes to see the Cajun Gravy become a formal nonprofit organization focused on feeding people in the aftermath of natural disasters in the Southeast region and beyond.