On New Year’s Eve 2012, when it was confirmed that chef Ryan Hidinger had stage IV gallbladder cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs, there was a palpable sense of disbelief and sorrow.
For years, Ryan and Jen Hidinger had been working hard on their dream restaurant, Staplehouse, while hosting a series of creative suppers at their home, called Prelude to Staplehouse, and building a network of loyal fans.
By December 2012, there was every indication Staplehouse would soon become a reality, with a location scouted and capital secured. Then, suddenly, it looked like Ryan’s diagnosis would delay and maybe even destroy all that.
But his family, friends, and the Atlanta restaurant community responded by creating Team Hidi, launching a series of events to help raise money to aid in Ryan’s cancer battle.
The good news is that Team Hidi has been a huge success. The bad news was contained in the latest Team Hidi Update Jen sent out last week:
Ryan has undergone (like a champion I might add) two full cycles of chemotherapy that resulted in a dead end. The unfortunate circumstances show growth in his tumors and a significant rise in CA19-9 tumor markers. We have made a change in his chemo treatment plan and have now started a new weekly cycle. We wait… with determination, poise and humility.
But there was some exciting news, too, as Team Hidi is set to expand its efforts in a new direction with The Giving Kitchen Initiative:
The Giving Kitchen Initiative supports the metro Atlanta restaurant community by lending a helping hand to industry members impacted by medical or other unanticipated hardship. The Giving Kitchen Initiative also supports other charitable, scientific and educational projects to which restaurant industry members are in a unique position to contribute such as nutritional education for community schools or providing food to people in need.
I first met Ryan when he was chef de cuisine at Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna, and we became casual friends over our mutual love of great beer.
I got to know Ryan and Jen better when I attended a Staplehouse dinner for an AJC story about so-called “underground supper clubs”: www.accessatlanta.com
Since then, Ryan and Jen have been among a group of regular guests on my front porch during an annual beer geek bacchanal.
So, full disclosure, I am one of those friends of Ryan and Jen, and maybe even an unofficial member of Team Hidi.
In fact, it’s been a little difficult writing about all this without landing some tears on the keyboard. But I know Ryan wouldn’t dig that. He’s a very brave, very upbeat, very cool guy.
I spoke with Ryan on Friday, and he was in remarkably good spirits, and super excited about the future of Team Hidi, The Giving Kitchen and Staplehouse. Here’s a bit of our conversation:
How’s it going?
It’s a little hectic. But, overall, we’re thrilled. Things are going great.
Well, you have a great woman by your side, so I’m sure that helps.
That’s for sure. I’d be light years behind if it weren’t for her — from treatment, to the foundation, and Staplehouse, she’s on it. I’m really lucky.
Where are you with the Giving Kitchen at this point?
We have filed for 501(c)(3) status so we are in the process of becoming a tax-exempt charitable organization. We have our board members in place and we are working out the details of how we will operate, where the money will come from, and how we will distribute it.
In a nutshell, this initiative is all about doing unto others, right?
Since the diagnosis, I feel there’s been a re-purposing of my life, and I’m sure that’s a pretty common feeling for people in my shoes. While I’m still here, I want to get some things done, whether I have three more months or 50 more years. I want to help take care of some people the way everybody has stepped up to help take care of me.
It seems like you’re doing surprisingly well.
Honestly, I feel great, overall. My oncologist continues to be stunned by my physical appearance and my stamina. I get fatigued pretty easily, but I haven’t had any nausea, I’m sleeping well, and my appetite is great.
What’s your diet like?
Since the diagnosis, I’ve been doing a version of the paleo diet. It’s a super clean diet and a great way to eat. But I needed to tweak it a bit. I need more calories because the chemo drugs have caused me to lose some weight. Now, I’m eating the way I like to cook for other people. It’s funny, the chefs I know are notorious for cooking local, sustainable, creative food, and then going out after work and eating a bunch of burgers and fries [laughs].
Speaking of cooking, what’s the latest word on Staplehouse?
There’s a lot of stuff I want to talk to you about but I can’t quite yet. But what I do want you to know is that we are still working on Staplehouse. We were working on a lease when all this went down, then we had to put it on the back burner. But about a month ago, we were given motivation to stay focused and push forward, and we are doing that.
Team Hidi info here: teamhidi.org
— Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog.