hurricane heroes courageous cooks

Photo: Nick de la Torre

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Jay Veeraraghavalu, Wayne Harris, Michael Chrisp, Charles Smith Jr.

The Courageous Cooks

When Hurricane Harvey dropped over 40 inches of rain on parts of Houston in August, it flooded roads leading to and from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. For four days, more than 1,000 employees, 500 patients, and 300 of their family members were essentially trapped inside. To make sure folks had enough to eat, four members of the general kitchen staff (which includes 40 cooks on a normal day) camped out at the hospital: Jay Veeraraghavalu (pictured), manager of food operations; Wayne Harris, assistant chief cook; and cooks Michael Chrisp and Charles Smith Jr. Their menu was pared down—eggs scrambled, for instance, instead of made to order—but they were able to whip up an emergency jambalaya with chicken and beans.

Music isn't usually allowed in the kitchen, but to keep spirits and energy up, the quartet turned on their phones and sang along to mariachi and country tunes. Wearing hospital scrubs, working 17 hours at a stretch, napping on a cot when their bodies needed rest, they got the job done. After two days, VPs and directors chipped in, plating, packing, and distributing meals, so the cooks could focus on preparing nourishing food for their hungry hospital.

—Corrie Pikul