He may have driven 34 hours roundtrip to Houston for 44 hours of cooking for first responders at Station 55, but Eddie Wu wouldn’t call himself a hero. "I listened to podcasts, I listened to music, I ate beef jerky and candy," the owner of Cook St Paul said of his trip down to help out in the aftermath caused by the deadly Hurricane Harvey in late August and early September.
But for those of us who sat on our couches watching the scenes on TV of people being rescued from their homes in boats by firefighters, Wu’s actions were more along the lines of the few (and the proud).
Wu also was watching the coverage when he saw a buddy he had served with in the Marines holding a little girl he had rescued. "It was 14 years since we’d seen each other," Wu said, "but I knew he was in the heart of it." He called his friend, now a firefighter, and could hear the weariness in his voice. Fire stations in the affected areas were receiving 500 calls a day. "He said, ‘Man, I wish you could come down this weekend (and cook),'" Wu said, because they were subsisting on frozen baloney sandwiches at the time. "I’m apt to make quick decisions," Wu said, adding, "as anyone who’s worked for me or is currently married to me knows."
Wu checked with his staff, who covered his shifts, and with his wife, and then began hitting up vendors for food donations and scouring the Twin Cities for a refrigerated van. Vehicles were in short supply because of the state fair, but with the help of Hertz and the Wounded Warriors fund, he secured a van and loaded it with oversized ice chests. His vendors were generous: BIX Produce, US Foods, Saint Agnes Baking Company, Peterson Craft Meat and Kim’s Oriental Market gave him fresh food. He started prepping in his kitchen with the help of his 6-year-old daughter and a few friends and colleagues who wanted to help.
He intended to drive straight through, but when he hit Oklahoma, he pulled over for a 90-minute nap in a sleeping bag, stretched over two coolers.
When he arrived, 95 percent of the water was gone, and he questioned whether he was actually in Houston, until he spotted piles of belongings stacked up along the street curbs.
He arrived at Station 55, unloaded, and started cooking. His menu included Bi Bim Bop, a Korean goulash with rice, marinated veggies, egg and protein. "Its roots are in royalty," he said. In the morning he made Korean pancakes. "I was trying to accommodate the Texan palate, which needs meat," he says, so he also cut up hot dogs for spicy egg scrambles. Lunch was food that could be grabbed, such as Korean burritos and hot dogs in buns.
He also filled thermoses to go from the 15 to 20 gallons of lemonade he made. "I make the best lemonade. I’m an aficionado of lemonade," he said.
He's posted his journey on Cook St. Paul's Facebook and culinary friends want to go back down with him to cook. And while there may be another trip in the works, he’s put together a fundraiser at the Music Café, October 15 (check out the Cook St Paul Facebook page if you’re interested).
After 44 hours of cooking, with just occasional breaks, Wu packed up and drove 17 hours straight back home so that he could be there to see his kids off for their first day of school.
"I toe the line of stupidity every day," he said with a chuckle, then added he was glad his stupidity made him rush down to help. How could he not when the first responders were covered with rashes caused by spending too much time in the flood waters and his friend was shot at by looters while out in a boat looking for people to rescue.
Wu’s leadership training in the Marines, mission trips with his mother, plus growing up with a father who was a St. Paul fire chief, made this trip a must.
"All I’m doing is what I do every day, just 1,100 miles south of where I (normally) do it," he said. "I saw firsthand what one person can do."