A James Beard Award-nominated Chicago chef is leveraging his social media presence in order to assist the people who’ve been on the frontlines during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chef Jenner Tomaska, a rising star Beard finalist in 2016 and 2017, has launched a 24-hour Instagram Live auction for a private, in-home dinner prepared by him. The auction proceeds will be shared between a relief fund for employees at Virtue Restaurant — a Hyde Park eatery that specializes in Southern cuisine— and donations to first responders.
Tomaska, who has 69,500 Instagram followers, started the auction at noon Friday.
Here’s how the auction works:
- Bidding is for a 6- to 8-person private dinner.
- Bidding opened at $2,500 (Bids are asked to be placed in increments of $100 and up.)
- Bids are submitted by commenting on the Instagram post.
Tomaska plans to prepare dinner at the auction winner’s home once Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order is lifted.
Tomaska, who is in the process of opening his own restaurant, and chef Erick Williams —Virtue’s owner — are long-time friends. Williams also officiated Tomaska’s marriage ceremony.
“I helped him open Virtue, so I understand the ins and outs of what he is going through right now and I’m pretty close with him and the rest of his team that currently works there,” said Tomaska. “We’ve kind of just maintained this relationship over the years and he’s kind of been my voice of reason in times of struggle and a close friend.”
Tomaska said he received his first bid from the action relatively “quick.”
“I’m happy to get that first person out there,” said Tomaska. “So at least we’ve already raised some money. It would be great to get up to that $10,000 mark, I think.”
Virtue, located at 1462 E. 53rd St., is temporarily offering a limited menu and daily “family meals” for curbside pickup.
“These are very difficult times for our team. Although we understand and support the decisions made by our local government, they have also increased the daily struggle for many members of our team,” a statement on the restaurant’s website says.
Donations can be made to Virtue’s employees on their GoFundMe account.