DC bosses team up with Best Buddies Homecoming

Some of DC’s top chefs and restaurants open their kitchens to youth with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) – an uplifting program tied to the annual Best Buddies Homecoming (née Prom). The two-in-one gala at the Reagan Building — split between an affair for adults and a homecoming-style dance for kids with IDD — is back in real life for the first time since the pandemic, with tickets to the soiree Friday, 2. December.

As part of Homecoming, chefs from restaurants like Bourbon Steak, Lebanese Tavern, Stellina Pizzeria and Taco Bamba begin working with a buddy weeks in advance to create special dishes for the tasting stations at the party. It’s a rare fundraiser where chefs work directly with people who benefit from the organization – and it helps introduce young people with IDD to potential jobs in the hospitality world. Over 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed, a statistic Best Buddies is working hard to break. One of the most common occupations is preparing and serving food according to the national core indicators.

“We find that many of our Best Buddies Jobs participants shy away from restaurants because they don’t know all the diverse jobs that one can have,” said Molly Whalen, director of the Best Buddies Capital Region in Virginia and DC. “Through this project, they can go behind the front of the house into the kitchen and see people doing all kinds of jobs.”

Best Buddies Homecoming was launched in 2014 — spearheaded by NBC4’s Tommy McFly, a decade-long supporter and current chapter advisory board chair. What began as a Bootstraps event is now one of the region’s largest annual galas, raising over $1 million for Best Buddies initiatives to date. It’s more than a fundraiser, it’s a way for youth with IDD to celebrate friendship and have a fun homecoming dance like any other school kid. This year, friends are helping to plan Lebanese Tavern Hummus Bars, Bourbon Steak Tartare Bites, Founding Farmers Apple Brie Bacon Lollies and more. It can be a rare opportunity for restaurant workers to interact with children with IDD and spread the love of food.

“They find things that make them happy, many have never eaten Lebanese food — and now it’s their favorite,” says Lebanese Taverna chef and co-owner Grace Shea, who has collaborated with friends on three events. “All of this just means pushing it and being a part of people’s lives whenever you can.”

food editor

Anna Spiegel reports on the eating and drinking scene in her native DC. Before joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University MFA program in New York and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

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