Culver City chef is cooking up a miracle

Carl Smith’s COVID-19 project provides food to hospitals and their staff around Los Angeles

Chef Carl Smith (right) carries a cooler in to Centinela Hospital in Inglewood with longtime friend Daniel Alvarez (middle), who originally sparked the idea to cook for hospitals in Smith. Standing with them is Daniel Kantor, Smith’s partner who organizes the trips to hospitals. Photo courtesy of Carl Smith

The idea started like many things in Carl Smith’s life, over a good meal. He, with his friend from high school, came up with the idea to serve meals to hospitals and their staff during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a chef with a self-proclaimed foodie family, Smith quickly descended into the life of a chef as something he loved to do. Smith is also a longtime Culver City, making his way up from El Marino to Culver High, and returning to the city following his time at the University of Arizona.

While his parents have no real links to the food business — his mother works as an accountant and his father owns a cabinet store — Smith found a connection to serving food for others through his grandmother.

 “The name [of the project] ‘We Saute 4 You’ comes from my grandma. She had a catering company called ‘I Saute for you,’ so I took the liberty of making ‘We Saute 4 You’ in her honor.”

He also worked a few restaurant jobs while in college and said he loved it, but didn’t know he wanted to make a living out of it until he worked at a restaurant owned by former Iron Chef Eric Greenspan.

“That was my first military style kitchen where I just fell in love with it,” Smith recalled. “I fell in love with the hierarchy, I fell in love with the sound of the plates, and I really fell in love with the food and the beauty of it.”

Fast forward to now, and you see a much different story. Restaurants are closed to in person dining, Smith was working as a sous chef for ‘Humble Pie,’ a catering service for the motion picture industry, which he said helped him learn how to feed large groups of people.

With everyone in quarantine, Smith and his friends decided to hold a quarantine video conference hangout, and one of those friends was Daniel Alvarez.

Alvarez is a nurse at Southern California Hospital Culver City — formerly known as Brotman Hospital — and it was at this video hangout that Alvarez brought up the idea to feed hospital staff that would become We Saute 4 You.

“I said, ‘look man, I would love to help out and donate 50 meals to your hospital,’ and he said, ‘let’s shoot for next week,’ so something I thought was going to be a one-time thing ended up just blowing up really fast.”

The next hospital he brought meals to was Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, where he reunited with his partner in the operation: Daniel Kantor. Kantor, who also went to Culver High and currently works as a nurse at Centinela Hospital, became the brains of the operation in many ways, getting into contact with and organizing meal deliveries to hospitals.

Kantor had been involved in community service efforts during the pandemic, collecting and dispersing handmade masks and other personal protective equipment to hospitals in need.

Once he met Smith, Kantor realized that he could help fill a very important role.

“He had a need to get more hospitals on the list, and his forte is in the kitchen, while mine is in the background…linking the need with the demand,” Kantor explained.

For Kantor, serving the community comes naturally to him.

“I feel like I have always had the instinct or the feeling or the drive [to help others],” Kantor recalled. “If I had free time and they needed help with something or if I saw something happen in the neighborhood, I would.”

With some of the logistical issues now taken care of, the other big obstacle to any community effort was still in play: money.

A GoFundMe page was set up by Smith’s aunt, and that page quickly shot past its original donation goal of $2,000, with a new goal of $10,000 in sight.

Even with all of the support, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses on this journey, with no way to circumvent some of the issues that Smith has had.

“It’s definitely hard to come by supplies,” Smith admitted. “Sometimes you have to go to multiple markets, or wake up at 6 a.m. and be the first one there to get first dibs on it all. 

Somedays, you are working 20 hours, then you have to wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. to keep it rolling and making sure the food is fresh and delicious and served hot.”

Kantor also mentioned an emphasis on the night shift, further extending those hours.

“We’ve realized that they don’t get enough recognition or attention or thanks. It is really easy to go there during regular business hours and deliver, but how about at night after 8 p.m.? How about those guys? It’s a 24 hour job…it’s a group effort.”

Smith has prepared himself for such rigorous work through his experience as a chef throughout the years, never feeling particularly overwhelmed by the long hours. 

“Hearing the feedback from [the hospitals] and hearing how much they love it…it’s also something for me to do during quarantine, and I have loved it,” Smith said. “It has kept me going ever since.”

If you would like to give to We Saute For You, visit their Go Fund Me page titled ‘Feed our SoCal Hospital Heroes and Frontline!’ Check out Smith’s Instagram page @wesaute4you for more photos.