With an Instagram post as simple—and devastating—as this one, chef Ehren Ryan announced he’ll host a fundraising dinner on January 26 at his Millburn restaurant, Common Lot, with proceeds going to helping the relief effort from Australia’s raging wildfires. The fires have burned an astounding 15.6 million acres so far, making it almost eight times larger than the 2018 California wildfires. Most of the territory burning is in the state of New South Wales, where Sydney is located and where Ryan has friends and family. He sent a cache of breathing masks for friends in New South Wales to distribute, but wanting to do more, came up with the idea for this dinner. The response, he says, has been “overwhelming.”
Table Hopping: You’re hosting the dinner on January 26. Why that date?
Ehren Ryan: January 26 is Australia Day. It’s like our Fourth of July. It’s a massive holiday with lots of national pride.
TH: Have your friends and family been personal affected?
ER: I have family and friends who’ve been evacuated from the South Coast. I’ve been listening to their stories, though they go in and out of Internet and reception.
TH: That must be worrisome.
ER: You won’t hear from them for a couple days and then you start to get worried. You just have to wait and see when their next message comes.
TH: It must be painful to be far away, to literally have to watch this happen from a distance.
ER: It’s very upsetting. A lot of those places that I’ve seen on the news, they’re old childhood destinations. My family and I used to go there for holidays. My wife and I went camper vanning on the South Coast. It’s upsetting, watching the places you know and they’re literally no longer there—they’re just ash.
TH: Your fundraiser is also going to address wildlife concerns?
ER: You’ll read reports, like half a billion animals have been lost. Three-quarters of the koala population in New South Wales alone have been lost.
TH: How did the idea for the dinner come about? How is it coming together?
ER: Everyone’s doing something in Australia and I thought, we have to do something as well. A few friends jumped on board very quickly, donated product, fine wine for raffles and stuff. It is a little upsetting that you can’t do anything from here. But a fundraiser like this helps. And people are so willing to do anything to support.
TH: What should people expect from the raffles?
ER: We’ll have a basket, possibly a couple of baskets. Common Lot will donate housemade sauces. People have donated really extraordinary bottles of wine. People can buy tickets at the event and then we’ll draw a raffle ticket number and each basket will have a winner.
ER: What charities are you supporting with the dinner?
TH: We’re working with WIRES Wildlife Rescue Organisation. It’s an organization in New South Wales that specializes in koala, kangaroo, and wombat rehabilitation. And we’ll donate to rural firefighters. The fire brigade fighting the bushfires is mostly all volunteer. Professional firefighters in Australia don’t trucks for rural areas. So it’s all volunteer.
ER: On Instagram you said the menu would be Australian. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll serve?
TH: I mean, I hate to say it, but we’ll do Shrimps on the Barbie. Just so you know, Australians never say that! But everyone knows it. It’s one of those classic ideas. But we’ll cut shrimp in half, barbecue it, dress it with a bit of salsa verde, some grilled lemon. Keep it simple and fresh. We’ll also probably do a vegetarian option like Grilled Halloumi. So a platter to start with grilled shrimp and Halloumi and bread. There’s this bread in Australia called Damper Bread, it’s basically flour and beef fat. For the main course, we’ll have two options—an Australian lamb shoulder with couscous, mint, and pistachio pesto. And the other option will be Seafood Laksa. That seems to be the biggest thing in Australia at the moment. Australians are very into Southeast Asian food, Thai and Malaysian especially, they’re the most popular at the moment.
TH: Are there Australian desserts?
ER: Yes! For desserts, we’ll do Lamingtons, which are sponge cakes dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut, normally served with a strawberry jam. And we’ll do mini-Pavlovas.
TH: Are Pavlovas Australian?
ER: If you ask any Australian, it’s an Australian thing. It doesn’t come from New Zealand whatsoever! There’s some high tension in that department. We classify it as Australian. And there will also be honeycomb dipped in chocolate, which is like a candy bar we have in Australia.
TH: How many people are you expecting and how can they (if they still can) get tickets?
ER: By email, or check out our Instagram or Resy. We’ll have anywhere from 100 to 120 total, I’d say. The restaurant seats 60 and we’ll do a couple flips.
TH: Are you surprised at all by the response, from diners or chefs?
ER: We were expecting it to be popular, yeah, but I wasn’t expecting to be inundated with messages. Since we put the Instagram post up, it’s been overwhelming, the amount of support the area is willing to offer to a country that’s on the other side of the world.
What: An Australian-themed Fundraiser Dinner at Common Lot benefitting rural firefighters and wildlife organizations
When: January 26, Australia Day, 4pm to 8pm (two seatings)
Where: Common Lot, 27 Main Street, Millburn; 973-467-0494
Cost: $55 per person, excluding tax and gratuity
Email [email protected] for information on getting a ticket. If tickets do sell out, you’ll still be able to participate in the raffle. You can also donate directly to the charities chef Ryan has chosen for the dinner at the WIRES Wildlife Rescue Organisation website or the New South Wales Rural Fire Service donation page. You can also follow the New South Wales Rural Fire Service coverage of the firefight on the NSWRFS Instagram.Click here to leave a comment