I was fortunate enough to be invited to Apna Ghar’s 2013 Taste for Life Gala, hosted at the Chicago Cultural Center. Apna Ghar is a “safe haven for women and children in Chicago who face domestic violence, but don’t have the support networks or access to services needed to break free.  While our services are open to all women in Chicagoland, Apna Ghar specializes in serving immigrant women who must overcome significant cultural, social, economic, and legal barriers to life in the United States.”

Restaurants who contributed their delicious morsels included:

  • American Junkie (poke fish with cashew cream sauce, lentil and cauliflowers with spiced almond & caper dressing)
  • Atwood Cafe (Ramp soup, lamb dish)
  • Bombay Wraps (berry lassi, chicken and purple potato partha wraps)
  • Cabot Creamery Cooperative (cheese samples)
  • Cantina Laredo (octopus and shrimp ceviche on spicy blue corn chip)
  • Chocolat-Uzma Sharif (tea-infused chocolate, truffle with white chocolate chip)
  • Cobra Corn (spiced popcorn)
  • Emilio’s Tapas (balsamic grilled vegetables, quinoa, black bean, and mango salad, and potato and cabbage salad)
  • Gaylord India (Bhel Poori, chicken malai kabab)
  • Isla Pilipina (grilled vegetables, vegetable pancit, lumpia)
  • Metropolitan Club (sticky rice cake with cauliflower, white chocolate mousse in mini waffle cone)
  • The Peacock-Fine Indian Cuisine (mini rotis, Lamb kebabs, spiced chicken, spiced paneer and eggplant)
  • Sataza (Chicken Tikka, Tandoori Tofu with lots of toppings, including chickpeas and red onions)
  • Sullivan’s Steakhouse (ahi tuna tartare on wonton chip, filet mignon pretzel sliders with horseradish sauce)
  • Untitled (chicken liver on homemade crostini, cream-cheese filled grit cake with tomato jam)

All participating restaurants also had to incorporate a purple food item into at least one of their dishes, and many of the dishes were uniquely created for the event (i.e., not available on their main menu). Let’s just say I consumed enough food to last me AT LEAST six Chicago winters, and that I probably should’ve spent more time taking pictures than stuffing my mouth. Although all the restaurants presented superb dishes, I literally could not resist three or four trips to American Junkie’s station. The smooth texture of the seared poke meshed perfectly with their slightly acidic, creamy cashew cream sauce (i even got the recipe!). The freshness of the pea shoots, peas, and mushrooms also added a delightful earthy undertone. Their lentil dish topped with purple cauliflower and an almond and caper sauce made me weep with vegetarian glory.

Cantina Laredo’s spicy tortilla chip topped with fresh ceviche (shrimp, freshly grilled octopus, avocado, onion, Jesus’s tears) also brings back fond memories. Gaylord’s malai kabob–chicken marinated in spiced cream cheese and then baked–melted so gently in my mouth that I barely had to chew (not that I chewed much anyway while shoving things down my throat). And Untitled introduced me to chicken liver for the first time..and dear god, was it a delicious explosion of umami.

The fantastic food reflected the fantastic chefs/owners/managers who created the dishes. I met several interesting and funny characters, including the guys  from Isla Pilipina. They’re like the big brothers I’ve always wanted–silly, goofy, and goddamn lovable in every kind of way. And the tattooed chefs from Untitled reminded me that the best food comes from general badasses. Even MasterChef Suzy Singh was there!

Apart from the food, the Taste for Life gala proved highly enjoyable. There was plenty of booze, great music, and lots of FlAsHinG photography. But what I found most amazing was the sheer diversity and amount of people that came to the event. The idea of domestic violence often evokes anger and shame, and these uncomfortable feelings often deter individuals from understanding more about the subject. Yet there were children, men, and women of all ages and ethnicities present at the gala, all bound by a common desire to support Apna Ghar’s cause (and a common love for food, of course). As Serena Low (Executive Director at Apna Ghar) says, “Food is life.  And it cannot be ignored or taken for granted particularly when we are trying to heal and or help others heal from trauma and abuse.”

Apna Ghar’s core services include (from website):

  • 24-Hour Hotline: Our hotline addresses the immediate safety needs of callers, who can connect to our services, get referrals to other programs, and get information about domestic violence and the protective options available to them.
  • Emergency Shelter: Our 15-bed, 24-hour emergency shelter provides women and their children who are escaping abuse a home-like atmosphere where they can regain control of their lives.  Care is taken to maintain a culturally-sensitive, secure, and healing environment.
  • Transitional Housing: Our seven transitional housing apartments offer Apna Ghar shelter clients who have moved beyond an emergency phase the space to establish long-term self-sufficiency.  Transitional housing is available for 18-24 months.  All transitional housing residents receive ongoing, intensive case management during their stay.
  • Counseling: Our counselors use individual and family therapy, support groups, art therapy, conflict management, and communication training to help women and their children process and heal from the trauma of abuse.  Counseling is provided to both residential and non-residential clients.
  • Legal Advocacy: Our legal advocates guide residential and non-residential clients through the US legal system.  Advocates help clients access available legal remedies, including obtaining civil orders of protection, pressing criminal charges, obtaining crime victims’ compensation, filing for divorce, custody, and support, as well as acquiring legal immigration status through protective statutes such as the Violence Against Women Act.  Advocates also help clients obtain legal representation through an in-house legal clinic and partnerships with area legal aid agencies and volunteer attorneys.
  • Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Center: Our supervised visitation and safe exchange center, one of only three in the city of Chicago, provides a free, safe place where children can interact with their non-custodial parent in the presence of a trained facilitator.  The center also offers a safe location for parents to pick-up and drop-off their children when the courts determine that the non-custodial parent may have unsupervised visits.