Earlier this summer, chef and restaurateur Craig Hutchinson dashed off texts to three chef friends around the state, asking for their help with an upcoming pediatric cancer fundraiser. Requests like this are common in the industry, but this one was particularly personal to him.
In early June, Hutchinson, the chef-owner of Olmo in New Haven, and his wife, Cara, received news no parent ever wants to hear. Their son Theodore, known as Teddy, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer at 7 months old.
Teddy is believed to have Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, an overgrowth and cancer predisposition disorder with an increased risk of childhood cancer. Doctors think this has caused a hepatoblastoma on his liver, which was discovered as a tumor roughly the size of a grapefruit or softball. The past three months of his young life have been a whirlwind of medical appointments and treatment at Yale New Haven Health’s Smilow Cancer Hospital.
He has now undergone four rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, and an upcoming MRI will determine whether it can now be surgically removed. If that’s successful, he will have two more rounds of chemo to finalize treatment, and then he’ll be monitored by sonograms every few months for several years to watch for any potential developments.
“Everyone will tell you these kids are just so resilient,” Cara said. “And he’s amazing, and he’s such an inspiration every day.”
Craig, motivated to put together a fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, contacted Bill Taibe of Don Memo, The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Westport; Jeffrey Lizotte of Present Company in Tariffville and James Wayman of Grass & Bone in Mystic. The four chefs have designed a four-course menu, which each will serve from their restaurants as a takeout meal. The chefs will do a “food swap,” Hutchinson said, with each restaurant receiving a course from the three others.
Diners will order the full meal for two ($100), to be picked up on Sept. 26 from the restaurant of their choice and reheated at home. Hutchinson said he’ll host a short Zoom session with diners to talk about the cause and to introduce each dish. He also hopes to introduce Teddy, if he’s feeling well enough.
The participating chefs, who represent key areas of the state’s culinary scene, agreed “without hesitation, absolutely,” to be part of the cause, Craig said. Proceeds from the dinner sales will go to Fund for the Cure, an American Liver Foundation research fund.
The Hutchinsons are encouraged by Teddy’s prognosis, Cara said, and the chemotherapy treatment he’s receiving has about a 95% success rate. But his rounds of chemo have been complicated by Fanconi syndrome, which makes him especially sensitive to a particular chemotherapy drug and drastically affects his electrolyte levels. Craig describes the difficult side effects as “chemotherapy times two."
COVID-19 protocols and safety measures at the hospital have also made the process even tougher. Normally, both parents would be able to be present for treatments and appointments, along with grandparents or other supportive guests. With just one parent allowed at a time, Craig and Cara have to take shifts, switching off to be there for him.
“We need the support, too,” Cara said. “Seeing your kid go through these hardships, by yourself, it’s awful.”
Like every restaurant owner across the country, Craig has been dealing with the effects of COVID-19 closures and restrictions on his business, and adapting to meet new market needs. In March, he began offering an “Olmo at Home” meal subscription service, along with other items like Olmo’s fresh bagels, beer and wine and provisions like cheese and crackers.
In July, he completely transformed the restaurant into a quick-service format, offering New England comfort and Jewish deli foods, including bagels, sandwiches and coffee.
None of that strain compares to watching his son go through a serious illness, he said. “Even opening a crazy restaurant can’t prepare you for the stress levels that this puts on you."
“We wanted to curl up in a ball and pretend none of this is happening, and wake up when it’s all over. But what you do, is you rely heavier on the people around you. My team has been amazing. My wife has been amazing. Teddy’s grandparents have been absolutely amazing. Everybody just stepped up and said ‘Yeah, let’s go beat cancer.’”
The couple has been buoyed by the outpouring of love and assistance they’ve received, Cara said, including a GoFundMe for Teddy’s medical bills, set up by her best friends.
“It’s crazy how something so unfortunate can point out the amazing support we have,” she said. “It took something so unfortunate to make us realize how lucky we actually are.”
The CT Chefs Care Dinner, a charity dinner for two experience, is available for pickup from four restaurants around the state. Learn more at olmo-kitchen.square.site/product/ct-chefs-care-dinner.
Leeanne Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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