Globe-trotting chef Anthony Bourdain used food as a way to connect people across cultures.
On Sunday, each Bo-beau — in Ocean Beach, La Mesa, Hillcrest and Long Beach — will honor Bourdain by raising funds for the Community Alliance for Healthy Minds, a non-profit founded by a Rancho Bernardo couple who lost a son to suicide.
Timed to closely coincide with what would have been Bourdain’s 62nd birthday — June 25 — the restaurants will donate 20 percent of all food sales to the organization.
The Bo-beau fundraiser comes amid a national conversation about depression and mental health that was sparked by the June 8 suicide of Bourdain, as well as designer Kate Spade’s three days earlier.
Celebrities, including comedian Michelle Wolf, actors Rose McGowen and Patton Oswalt and star chefs Gordon Ramsay and David Chang, took to social media to encourage people to seek help.
And the restaurant world, clearly rocked by Bourdain’s suicide, has responded in the way it knows how — by cooking for a cause.
“In the restaurant industry, no matter where you are in the world, you were touched with this,” said Michelle Kveen, co-owner of Bo-beau Kitchen + Garden in La Mesa.
In fact, restaurants from San Diego to Las Vegas and New York started organizing fundraisers in the days following Bourdain suicide.
Cloak & Petal, for example, a Japanese seafood restaurant in Little Italy, created a special octopus dish, in a nod to Bourdain’s love of that cuisine, with all of the proceeds earmarked for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Kveen said Bo-beau La Mesa on Sunday will serve Bourdain’s go-to pasta dish, cacio e pepe, a classic Roman preparation of spaghetti served simply with cheese and pepper.
Kveen, who like Bourdain is a New Yorker, said she identified with Bourdain’s gritty persona, sarcastic sense of humor and struggle with addiction. But she was also motivated to organize Sunday’s fundraiser because she has a good friend who tried to commit suicide.
“I’m not doing it to drive business, I’m doing it to spread awareness of mental health,” Kveen said. “And I want to do it through food — and to honor Anthony Bourdain.”
Philanthropy is part of the Cohn Restaurant Group DNA, with CRG founders David and Lesley Cohn giving away an estimated $250,000 a year to more than 300 organizations. Last year, they opened Tacos Libertad in Hillcrest, where 100 percent of the profits go to a local charity.
Kveen said she’s a strong believer in that ethos.
“It’s humbling being a business owner and it’s humbling coming from where I’m from. … I worked really hard to get where I am,” she said.
“Any business owner, I think you have a responsibility to your community, I don’t care if you’re a restaurant or a lumber yard. We all talk about shop local and support local, so just do it.”
Connie Kennemer co-founded the Community Alliance for Healthy Minds with her husband Rex after the death of their 25-year-old son Todd in 2005. Each year, the non-profit holds a mental health forum that draws hundreds of local residents and mental health professionals. She praised the Bo-beau restaurants’ effort to raise public awareness of suicide prevention.
“I think what the Cohn Restaurant Group is really doing is paying tribute to Anthony Bourdain not only because of his great, wonderful contribution to life, but to prevent other deaths too,” Kennemer said.
“Any time we have someone that’s a celebrity, anybody that’s in the spotlight, commit suicide, it comes to the public’s attention, it’s a prompt to wake them up — it’s not just Hollywood, it’s in our lives, our community,” she said.
“And anytime when people like the Cohn Restaurant Group can take an event and say let’s do something about this, I think it’s powerful.”