L'Oca d'Oro chef looks forward to a year of collabs for Austin hospitality fundraising
Austin has plenty of community-minded restaurants, but one that's really made a name of it may not match the helpful mom-and-pop stereotype.
L'Oca d'Oro, an elegant Italian eatery with a seasonal menu and a reputation from years on best-of lists, conducted a bold fundraising campaign in 2023 that raised $50,000 for reproductive care and abortion support group the Lilith Fund. This was through its collaborative Pasta Paisanos dinner series, which is kicking off 2024 with its second beneficiary: Good Work Austin (GWA).
Founded by L'Oca d'Oro co-owners Adam Orman and Fiore Tedesco, Good Work Austin deals with almost any community work a restaurant could do. Its website counts more than 2 million meals distributed by local restaurants to combat food insecurity; shares resource guides for maintaining employee, workplace, and community health; and recounts training initiatives for greater staff safety and sustainability.
Although a dinner with Dai Due's Jesse Griffiths on February 5 will be the first of the year, it's part of the way through the second "season" of the dinner series. So far $9,000 has been raised for GWA.
"I was a little shy about funding that organization, because there's a feeling of it being ours," says Tedesco. "But the more that the organization has grown, the more it becomes separate from from us. Adam was the really the acting director of the organization for years, and he's not now ... [so] we have some separation. These are our people, representing values that are really near and dear to us. But they are doing their own work."
Pasta Paisanos has always been personal. Tedesco says it started the first time he got COVID-19, in 2022. Even folks who have never set foot in a professional kitchen can relate: He missed a pizza party at Aaron Franklin's food festival, Hot Luck, and missed his friends. (Who among us does not know the sting of pizza party FOMO?)
First it was an excuse to collaborate more when he got better, which quickly morphed into a funnel for supporting issues that were important to Tedesco and Orman. Soon other industry greats like Franklin, Olamaie's Amanda Turner and Erin Ashford, and Suerte's Fermín Núñez (himself a L'Oca d'Oro alum) joined in.
"Man, I cry so much when I talk about my friends," Tedesco says, recalling working with Franklin on the first "season" of Pasta Paisanos last year. "It was really special to me, having Aaron Franklin in — doing a dinner in the house, collaborating with me. He was my mentor and my boss for five years, and has been such a constant, close friend since. I teared up and wept like a baby in front of the whole staff. Which — I've done that more than once."
Now, the L'Oca d'Oro team gets to call the Lilith Fund their friends as well. The two groups got "a lot of face time," according to Tedesco. Representatives came to every dinner.
"When we talked to the Lilith Fund, they were kind of at a low point. It was the way legislation had gone ... the main things that they did were all of a sudden made illegal or unwelcome," he says. "So I think they really appreciated that we wanted to be involved with them, that we wanted to play a role and have a presence with them. And I'm really grateful ... [to] bridge that connection, to get to know them on a deeper level."
In 2024 Pasta Paisanos will feature the following chefs, plus more to come as they are confirmed:
- February 5 — Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due. Despite its Italian name, this restaurant is very Texas-forward, often using wild game like boar and antelope. "Jesse plumbs what is available in Texas like no one else, proselytizing for feral hogs and eschewing chocolate because we just don’t have it here," says an event description.
- March 4 — Osei “Chef Picky” Blackett of Picky Eaters Restaurant and Ariapita Restaurant in Brooklyn. Chef Picky, raised in Trinidad and Tobago, has a background in exclusive private dining as well as his more casual Caribbean restaurants in New York. Chef Tedesco met him through Canje.
- April 1 — Sara Hauman of Tiny Fish Co. A spokesperson for L'Oca d'Oro confirms this dinner that's not on the webpage yet. Tiny Fish Co. is not a restaurant, but an online shop for luxe tinned seafood. (Think chorizo-spiced mussels.) Founder Hauman competed on Top Chef: Portland and is a two-time James Beard Award semi-finalist.
"I'm so excited about the slate of people that come in," adds Tedesco. some are friends. "Half are people like Kim Alter, [who] we had never met before. In a way I was intimidated and a little scared, because I just wanted to do a good job collaborating with this person whose work I know so well. ... But now we're friends. These dinners are really just me trying to make friends or dig deeper into a relationship. So I'm so, so excited that I get 11 more this year."
Pasta Paisanos is $100 per person ($50 to dinner costs and $50 to Good Work Austin). Learn more and book via locadoroaustin.com.