It almost goes without saying that at an event as long-standing and successful as the Baptist Health Foundation’s Bolo Bash, the food is bound to be good. It is a luncheon, after all. But just in case you needed another reason to put funds towards this annual charity event – besides helping bolster women’s and children’s health care throughout the state – we caught up with restaurateur and Baptist Health Systems Executive Chef Donnie Ferneau to talk about the cause, his role and this year’s menu.
Women’s and children’s health care is “one of the number one things I’ll fundraise for,” Ferneau says. But it’s also close to his heart for another reason. “My wife and I are going through IVF treatment right now,” he says, and then adds – quite rightly – that “women and moms make the world go ’round.” As a self-described momma’s boy, Ferneau was made for a cause like this.
As has been the case for many these past few years, Ferneau’s career shift was spurred by the pandemic. After making his mark at restaurants like Good Food by Ferneau, his most recent endeavor, Cathead’s Diner, closed in 2020. It was at this point that he saw an opportunity to make the switch from table service to the service of others. “I thought I could really make a difference, especially with my background in culinary medicine,” Ferneau says.
And what a difference it has been. That year, Ferneau joined Baptist Health as executive chef, and he now oversees the food service and menus of seven hospitals. He has also found himself using his culinary creativity to tackle challenges head-on. When last year’s Bash was forced virtual by another spike in COVID-19 cases, Ferneau and the Bolo Bash team had to adapt their luncheon concept. What arose was something Ferneau calls “adult lunchables” – single servings of high-quality food in a convenient takeaway package, best enjoyed at home or in a well-ventilated outdoor space (and perhaps with a glass of chardonnay).
Everyone is happy to be back at the table this year, and guests can expect another knockout menu from Ferneau and the team of Baptist Health chefs. “The culinary team that Baptist Health has, I would put up against any hospital system in the country,” Ferneau says. Many of those chefs also came to Baptist from restaurants, so the Bolo Bash luncheon is the perfect opportunity for them to “stretch their legs a bit” and bring out that restaurant-quality flair. Hungry yet?
In keeping with this year’s Area of Purpose, the menu is themed after mom’s home cooking. Ferneau and the other chefs will recreate those cozy flavors of comfort in a decadent but health-forward style. The food will highlight local, fresh ingredients, with no preservatives or added sugar, which plays directly into Ferneau’s strengths as a chef. “It’s what’s not in our food that makes it special,” he says. Nothing fried here, but rest assured you’ll be wanting seconds. “And of course,” Ferneau adds, “there’ll be some chocolate on the menu.”
If you speak to anyone at Baptist Health, they’ll tell you about the health system’s “healing ministry.” And whether he says it in so many words, Ferneau embodies that spirit of service well. “At the end of the day, I just want to help people.”