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Houston Home Cooks Find Ways to Move Forward

Harvey flooded over 100,000 homes throughout South Texas, leaving homeowners and businesses to clean up $190 billion in damages. Among the many things we lost in the floods were our kitchens—the center of our home lives, the “heartbeat” of a household’s rhythm. But that doesn’t mean our city has stopped cooking.

Despite the harrowing news regarding the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, it’s important not to lose ourselves, to not forget how strong our communities are. The New York Times recently did a feature on Houston residents who lost their kitchens as a result of Hurricane Harvey—and how they’re improvising in surprising and powerful ways. In the midst of loss, it’s easy to forget how good we are at moving forward. Even if that means cooking dinner in a crockpot in the upstairs bathroom.

In Harvey’s Aftermath, People Have Made Their Kitchens Mobile

One of the people featured in the story is Dana Karni, a lawyer and mother of three in Bellaire. When her home started flooding on August 27th, she and her two teenage children saved as much of their food and kitchen as they could. Dana saved her Japanese cooking knives—originally in case they had to cut their way out of the attic to the roof. Her 16-year-old son helped save a small freezer filled with food, her daughter (who loves to bake) rescued a Kitchen Aid mixer.

In the days following the flood, they turned their upstairs into a makeshift kitchen. The linen closet is a pantry now; the playroom contains the microwave and the minifridge, where the smell of anything cooking wafts into the bedrooms. The master bedroom even has their espresso machine.

Aimee Alley Taylor, a health and wellness coach, moved from house to house four times during Harvey—lugging around multiple coolers filled with healthy ingredients. No matter where they were, she cooked a healthy meal for her husband and their two grade schoolers. Why all the trouble? “To me,” she says, “those dinners have been what centered us and kept us sane.”

Al Marcus, a local business owner who creates sauces and charcuterie for chefs, perhaps lost the most from his kitchen’s destruction. He once had casks of homemade vinegar, all lost to the flood now. The waters even destroyed a wax-sealed glass jar filled with aging vanilla—a treasure that took 15 years to age to completion. Now it’s trash, alongside all of his kitchen utensils and most of his appliances.

Except for one: his trusty smoker.

While volunteers ripped apart his sheetrock to save his home from mold, Al cooked 140 pounds of brisket in the smoker, feeding his volunteers and his neighbors. His son, a professional chef, helped him with the massive cookout. For a man who normally hosts up to 100 people at his home during the holidays, cooking food for a crowd (even a crowd of flood recovery volunteers) made his home feel a little more normal. Still, he feels the loss of the things he couldn’t replace.

Other Houstonians make do with smaller appliances: portable gas grills, crock pots, hot plates, minifridges, dorm-sized microwaves. A veteran of Hurricane Katrina commented, “It’s amazing what you can do with [so few items].”

South Texas Fights to Move Forward—Arnold & Itkin Works to Help

We’re proud of our neighbors and community for standing strong—for adapting to the most difficult circumstances South Texas has ever seen. At the same time, we’re also angry at the circumstances that made adapting necessary. For some families, they’re not expecting their kitchens to be usable until March. Others believe it may be a year before their kitchens are rebuilt, and it may take even longer than that for them to recover all the small things they lost: cast iron pans, old cookbooks, handwritten recipes.

It’s a long road ahead. However long it takes, our firm will continue to stand by our neighbors and communities and fight for them to get their homes back—especially their kitchens.