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Chef Gerry Hayden Honored at Slow Food East End Benefit

The East End culinary community is coming together once again to help one of their own.

Stars of the East End culinary community will turn out next month to shine the spotlight of recognition and honor on one of their own.

Slow Food East End, Kontokosta Winery, and top East End chefs will host a benefit to honor Gerry Hayden's  culinary accomplishments, his ongoing commitment to nurturing the local, sustainable farm culture and his efforts to promote education and awareness of good, clean, and fair food.

Chef Hayden is co-owner and founder of The North Fork Table in Southold.

The event will take place at Kontokosta Winery on Sunday, Feb. 23 from 4:30 to 7 pm. Tickets are $75 per person for Slow Food members and $100 per person for nonmembers. Tickets are available for purchase through the Slow Food East End website, 

Chef Hayden and his wife Claudia Fleming's menus focus on seasonally-inspired organic produce, local seafood and artisanal cheeses, making them pioneers of the local slow food movement.

In 2011, Hayden was diagnosed with ALS.  Money raised through the event will help provide for his quality of life care.

Tasting Tickets include selections of Kontokosta wines and Greenport Brewery beer.

Local chefs who will contribute hors d'oeuvres include Colin Ambrose, Estia's Little Kitchen, Sag Harbor; Peter Ambrose, Peter Ambrose Events, East Hampton; Robby Beaver, Frisky Oyster, Greenport, Peter Berley, author Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, South Jamesport; James Carpenter, Citta Nuova, East Hampton; Bryan Futerman, East Hampton; Todd Jacobs, Fresh Hamptons, Bridgehampton; Taylor Knapp, First & South, Greenport; Ty Kotz, Topping Rose, Bridgehampton; Aldo Maiorana, Aldo's Café, Greenport; Gretchen Menser, Fresno, East Hampton; Kevin Penner, Southampton; John Ross, author The Food and Wine of the North Fork, Southold; Rosa Ross, Scrimshaw, Greenport; Noah Schwartz, Noah's, Greenport; Cheryl Stair, Art of Eating, East Hampton; William S. Valentine, Valentine Culinary Consulting, East Hampton; and Jason Weiner, Almond, Bridgehampton, NYC/L&W Oyster Co., NYC.

It's not the first time award-winning chefs have come together for Hayden: In October, an event was held in Cutchogue for "A Love Shared," "a collaborative effort between the North Fork Table and Inn, renowned Long Island chefs, local farmers and important community businesses," called "Hayden's Heroes," aimed at raising awareness

According to the ALS Association, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, "is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord."

As motor neurons degenerate and die, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost, and patients may become totally paralyzed and have difficulty breathing, the site states.

Hayden, who was 49 in November, was diagnosed with ALS three years ago.

"This disease is devastating," Hayden said. "It's really horrible. It takes everything from you, except for your brain, which is still intact."

The award-winning chef has lost the use of his hands and can no longer work in his renowned kitchen.

He is also wheelchair bound and on a machine to help him breathe. 

Despite the fact that the disease is so debilitating, Hayden said not much is known about ALS.

"This disease needs so much more attention," he said. "No one even really remembers who Lou Gehrig is anymore. They have no idea how absolutely cruel this disease is."

Hayden, who was born in Setauket, summered in Jameport; his wife was born in Brentwood.

"We're both Long Islanders," he said. "When I was diagnosed, the community, the farmers and people I work with wanted to do something."

The impact of ALS on Hayden's life has been devastating, he said. 

"It's an incredibly difficult thing," he said. Even talking is a challenge because Hayden loses his breath easily. "The diaphragm is a muscle. What will eventually happen is I won't be able to breathe anymore and may need a respirator or tracheotomy."

Hayden's entire world has shifted. "I've gone from a guy who was working 18 hours a day with my wife at a dream restaurant to a guy who is stuck home alone in a wheelchair with a breathing machine."

But still, his optimism remains intact. So many other ALS victims, he said, are facing far worse physical challenges. "I'm the lucky one," he said.



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