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Cooking up some fun

By Staff | Aug 21, 2012

On a shining Saturday morning each year, local chef Todd Johnson (co-owner of The Joint, Run Agrounds and Rumrunners’ at Cape Harbour) opens up his pizza kitchen early. Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida cancer patients, who happen to be young children, come from throughout Southwest Florida to don aprons and cook with the chef, this year for the fourth time, as a precursor to the highly successful Celebrity Chef Night and Auction at Rumrunners on Aug. 24 to benefit the Childrens’ Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Todd has fond memories of his childhood watching Julia Child with his grandmother in Naples and learning to cook the recipes from the show with her. He said he loves passing along those memories to a new generation of children – children who are living with cancer and have to take on adult struggles for survival at too young of an age.

He starts out in the pizza kitchen of The Joint where the youngsters get to learn to “throw” pizza, put their favorite toppings on it and then put it in the big pizza oven.

Ben Nordstrom and his best friend Jarrid Dodge both made “meatlovers” pizza. Cali Russell chose pineapple and ham for her pizza, both loaded with extra cheese. After enjoying their pizzas, they walked over to Run Agrounds where they made gelato flavors of their choice and got a wide assortment of toppings to put on the finished product to enjoy.

For a few hours, the youngsters could just be kids, enjoying making and eating pizza and gelato with Todd and their hospital friends. It is a true camaraderie – these kids and their families have bonding friendships with each other, many who only see each other at the hospital at their numerous appointments and tests and chemo.

As Mindy Russell, mother of Cali Russell, who is this year’s Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida Barbara’s Friends Child of Hope, said, “Many people who don’t have kids with cancer don’t understand many of the issues we go through. These kids in the cancer program bond together and we as parents also bond together as an extended family of support for each other. I can’t imagine what we would have done without our friendships and the support of the Childrens’ Hospital of Southwest Florida.”

Jeannie Cummings, senior director of marketing for the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation, said, “We are incredibly grateful to Chef Todd Johnson and the team at Rumrunners, The Joint and Run Agrounds for their continued dedication to local children’s health care at Lee Memorial Health System. The day spent with Chef Todd in the kitchen gives our children a chance to experience a wonderful diversion from their daily medical challenges.”

It is a small world in our Southwest Florida community. Nordstrom and Dodge of Punta Gorda became best friends as they discovered they were in the same third grade class together and their parents have become very close also.

Todd’s generosity is a huge gift to the kids and their families. Some are very shy and withdrawn when they first get to The Joint. Used to uncertainty and a world of poking, medicine and hospitals, they are wary of new situations. As the morning goes on, they open up and their faces glow, they are smiling and laughing and enjoying making pizza and gelato that they share with their families.

For one brief moment, they are normal children with no life threatening struggles.

For one brief moment, there are no worries.

For one brief moment, their faces shine and their laughter is like music.