May 1, 2019

Local Chefs and Brave Audience Members go Apron to Apron for Charity in Sliced Salem

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by Joey Phoenix

Do you love food and enjoy watching heated rivalries develop on stage between chefs, especially when doing so is for a great cause? Then you don’t want to miss what’s happening next week in The Cellar at Hotel Salem.

On Monday, May 6th Octocog and Behind You! are teaming up again for Sliced Salem: A Chef Competition where three of Salem’s best chefs – Diane Wolf of The Lobster Shanty, Tim Haigh of Bambolina and Kokeshi, and Daniel Gursha of Ledger – will join forces with three randomly selected audience members to prepare two courses, each with a secret ingredient, to raise money for the Elizabeth Bookholz Memorial Fund.

“I am pretty excited about this event,” says Chef Diane Wolf. “The last time I did a cooking competition here in Salem I ‘had a blast and came in last,’ I’m hoping that I don’t repeat that this time.”

Chef Tim Haigh is also excited about the event. “Getting money raised for Behind You is obviously a great benefit to hospitality workers. The work that they do is extremely vital.

“I’m also excited to compete against Diane Wolf,” he adds.

Four esteemed judges – Jennifer Normant of Hell’s Kitchen USA fame and  the Chef at Sea Level Newburyport, Brian Marks, Sales Manager at Paul W. Marks Co., Kristen Standish, SVP of Grapevine Logic, and John Andrews, Founder of Creative Collective – will also be on hand to taste each dish and determine the winner.

The Behind You! Elizabeth Bookholz Memorial Fund was created in the early 2000s to support Salem service industry professionals with costs associated with injuries and unexpected illnesses lasting more than four weeks.

Chef Todd Bekesha

Sliced Salem is the newest event in an ongoing partnership between Octocog and Behind You. The two companies also joined together in 2018 to raise funds for Po’Boys and Pies co-owner Chef Todd Bekesha, who was struggling to pay for expensive treatment and dialysis while waiting for a kidney match. The event and fundraising campaign were able to raise more than $8,000 in medical bills for him to help get him back on his feet.

“It’s important for an organization like Behind You! to exist and be a bridge between the restaurant workers who need help getting back on their feet and those who have the resources to make that possible,” says Octocog owner Dan Donato.

“Our work fills a gap in the community and provides opportunities for many restaurant workers to maintain their jobs, lifestyles, and financial obligations even in the face of illness.”

“Behind You is really getting their name out this year and doing great work,” says Chef Wolf. “They helped the crew at Victoria Station when they were all suddenly out of work and they helped Todd Bekesha when he was waiting for a kidney transplant.

“That’s something I can really get behind, even if it means humiliating myself or someone’s grandma during this competition.”

One of the most intriguing parts of the night is that while the three chefs will be calling the shots, it’s the randomly selected audience members who will be doing most, if not all, of the cooking. However, if the guests are genuinely afraid of either cooking or being on-stage, they can choose to opt out of the selection process. Apart from that, however, anything – or anyone – goes.

“Each of the three of us will be paired with a member of the audience,” Chef Haigh explains, “and Diane and I have been talking about ways to sabotage each other, including bringing in undesirable members of the community in and trying them to force them upon our opponents as mystery chefs.”

“I am really excited to spend time with Chef Haigh and Chef Gursha, because I admire both of those guys so much,” explains Chef Wolf. “I’m torn between wanting to really show them what I’m made of and wanting to play it safe and make life less scary for my chosen audience member.

“I hope I get someone who at least knows a bit about cooking and how to handle a knife,” she adds.

The night is guaranteed to be a lot of fun, and as the word is getting out, tickets are going quickly. People in the restaurant industry and people who just love food understand why supporting events like this and organizations like Behind You! is so important.

“We all plan for unforeseen circumstances but as hard as we try, it’s possible that we need a little help to get through tough times,” Donato describes. “We want to be behind our fellow hospitality workers when they need us. We’ve helped people in the past but we’re beginning to set higher goals so we can help even more people than we’ve been able to in previous years.”

Sliced Salem: A Chef Competition to Benefit Behind You! is Monday, May 6th from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and yes, kids are welcome too! In addition to the main event, there will also be a full cash bar and special creations from Deacon Giles Distilling, a raffle, and a silent auction. As a special treat, and to highlight their commitment to supporting their staff, Salem’s restaurant owners will be on hand serving passed appetizers.

Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at