If you walk into St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on the day of Chef Adrianne Calvo’s annual visit, you know something amazing is in the works. You know it because of the smell: smoky, rich and comforting, wafting through the halls.
“It’s a big menu. Lots of flavor,” Calvo says.
Chef Calvo, TV and internet personality, author of five cookbooks and a Miami restaurant owner, presses pause on her busy life for a few days each year to serve St. Jude families. For the past 11 years, she and her team, including her mom, have prepared a huge, Cuban-inspired feast for hundreds of patients and staff. At St. Jude, it’s a holiday in its own right.
There are yuccas, beans, plantains, rice, flan and bread pudding. And there’s that Cuban pork roast, the source of the intoxicating smell. Calvo says the meal is, like her: “Hispanic at heart. I think we have enough food to feed half of the globe, pretty much.”
As a young woman growing up in Miami, Calvo considered becoming a journalist. After taking a high school cooking class because of a scheduling fluke, she focused her storytelling instincts on food.
“My mom and my grandmothers, they always cooked for me, and I always looked at food as love, as caring,” she says.
After her sister, Jenny, died from cancer at 19, Calvo adopted her sister’s life’s mission: “Make it count.” Shortly thereafter, she connected with St. Jude.
“I saw the wonderful things St. Jude was doing,” Calvo says, “how they saved lives and what that means for the families. I thought, “How can I be of help here?”
In 2008, Chef Calvo’s team prepared its first St. Jude feast. The pork roasts were nearly sizzling, their aromas filling the halls. During a quick break, Calvo overheard a patient exclaim: “Mom! Mom! It smells just like grandma’s house.”
Calvo knew she had established an important tradition.
“It’s cooking for a purpose,” she says. “And what greater purpose than love and family?”
For more on Chef Calvo and others who support St. Jude, visit stjude.org/inspire.
From Promise, Spring 2019