The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2017

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56  /  the tasting panel  /  december 2017 FUNDRAISER I t was Tuesday, September 19 at 7 p.m. CST when I turned on CNN to get an update on what was then a Category Five hurricane fast approaching Puerto Rico. The satellite image showed the first bands of this monster storm touching the southeast corner of the island; with winds up to 155 miles per hour, the hurricane's path was projected to pass right through the middle of Puerto Rico. I immediately called my mom, after conversing with her during most of the day, to make sure she was well prepared. She had filled up her car with gas, stocked up with water and non-perishable food items, and brought enough food for her two dogs while my brother put some wood panels on the glass window and sliding doors. Her wooden house blends in with the country scenery surrounded by lush, green mountains, and before he passed six years ago, my dad installed some high-tension wires to hold it together in case of a hurricane. But with a storm this powerful, the wood made the house all the more vulnerable for destruction. The last thing she did before evacuating was to say a prayer asking God for protection. I knew it was only a matter of time before electricity and cell phone service would go out as the winds intensified. Damage assessment was slow due to lack of communication, and gaining access to smaller towns and remote rural areas in the center of the island was incredibly difficult. The initial reports coming in from San Juan and other metropolitan areas were not good: In addition to the massive flooding, downed tree trunks and electric- ity poles obstructed roads and power lines were thrashed. My brother warned, "If you come here you would not recognize Puerto Rico. It looks like a war zone that you see on television." Hurricane Maria was the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on Puerto Rico in almost a century. At this point, the island was still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Irma, which had passed north of the island two weeks prior—leaving 70 percent of households without power. In the wake of these storms, Puerto Ricans have been forced to adapt to a new way of living, with limited access to the basic necessities we all take for granted. There was not even potable water available. Yet behind the apparent sadness in my family's voices, I could feel a sense of resilience and strength amidst the trying conditions they're enduring. Besides helping to support them, I felt the obligation to lend a hand in some way. My family was fortunate, but so many others could not say the same. The recovery process has been slow, and there are plenty of remote areas with living conditions that remain dire nearly three months later. The idea started to take root when I got a text message from Chicago restaurateur Alpana Singh, my friend and fellow Master Sommelier. "If you want to do something, I want to help," she told me, offering up her restaurant, The Boarding House, as a fundraiser venue. From there, things started to fall into place. My bandmates of The Rack & The Riddler were willing to play the event for free, and with the help of Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia, I was able to connect with Celena Roldán, the CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois. Roldán, who is also of Puerto Rican descent, was thrilled to partner with us and provided staff and support for the event. Local distribu- tors and suppliers, meanwhile, came together to donate enormous amounts of wine. We sold more than 100 tickets to our November 5 "Songs and Somms for Puerto Rico" event. The restaurant was full, the energy in the room was high, and we achieved our goal of raising $10,000. In my closing statements, I thanked everyone who contributed and assured them that Puerto Rico will overcome this disaster—that's who we are as people. It may take a while, but Puerto Rico se levanta! They are not alone! Gracias to the hospitality folks in Chicago. A Prayer for Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rico, causing catastrophic damage and a major humanitarian crisis. Here's how the Windy City industry folks pitched in to help victims of a Category Five by Serafin Alvarado, MS / photos by Jacob Hand Serafin Alvarado (right) is the Director of Wine Education for Southern Glazer's of Illinois. He's pictured here with Fernando Beteta, MS (left), and Alpana Singh, MS (center). Alvarado's fundraiser helped raise $10,000 for the Red Cross, which will direct the funds to the Puerto Rican hurricane relief effort.

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