Tuesday, February 07, 2006

State of Hollywood Story #3: Francisco Chaidez and Terry Fortia

Early this year, at Richard Heyman's new Southern-style restaurant Memphis, I met Francisco Chaidez, the executive chef of Memphis, and his executive sous-chef, Terry Fortia.

Francisco Chaidez couldn't have had a more Hollywood story. As if following the path from the William Morris mail room to the director's chair, Francisco had started as a dishwasher at Tribeca of Beverly Hills. In a path that took him to Utah and back to Southern California, he rose to become the executive chef at Memphis.

I knew I had seen Terry before. I just hadn't known it until I met him again at the restaurant. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans residents were fleeing the rising waters to those distant towns that would take them in, Terry and his family found themselves at the Dream Center, a church-run community center in CD13. Terry had been the chef at the New Orleans Yacht Club, wiped out in the storm. Now he was far from home.

But his luck turned back around. A good Samaritan gave him the keys and the pink slip to her car, a Dodge Caravan that would fit his family of nine. The media sniffed out the story of a castaway chef, telling the story of New Orleans through its gumbo-in-exile. And a Hollywood restaurateur who was opening a Southern restaurant watched the news and wasted no time in driving to the Dream Center and offering Terry a job.

Terry Fortia's welcome showed Hollywood at its best: compassion, generosity, and opportunity all at once. People like Terry, who come here through will or chance ready to take their best shot, are to Hollywood what the spices are in one of his creations. He reminds us that we are a city of perpetual newcomers in a nation of immigrants, and stronger for it.

Not to mention he makes some mean fried chicken and baby back ribs.