More than 200 people gathered at The Olmstead on Wednesday night to honor Chef Dean Corbett, who passed away from a heart attack in October. Corbett, who was known to his friends as “Deano,” is best remembered as the owner of Corbett’s: An American Place, Equus, and Jack’s Lounge. But many of the people at Wednesday’s event, praised him as much for his dedication to the community service and his family as his culinary accomplishments.
“A Taste of Corbett’s: A Tribute Chef Deano” featured tastings from more than 60 Louisville chefs, a live auction, an open bar and live music provided by Robbie Bartlett. The money raised by the event, including the $100 admission price, went to help Corbett’s family with the expenses they occurred since his sudden loss.
Corbett, a Portland, Oregon native, was a completely self-taught chef. He learned to cook after returning from college when, at the time, his mother Nancy was battling lung cancer. He began cooking to nourish her back to health.
After starting his culinary career in Dallas, Corbett moved to Louisville in 1982 to work at Casa Grisanti. He purchased his first restaurant Equus in 1985 and grew it into a four-star landmark in St. Matthews.
Tom Person was a longtime patron of Corbett’s restaurants, but he attended Wednesday’s fundraiser because he wanted to give back to someone who had given so much of himself to the community. Corbett was often found serving up culinary delights at various charitable events around town. He also helped start several food-themed fundraisers, including Bourbon & Bowties which benefits Norton Children’s Hospital. In 2013, he raised $1.6 million for Gilda’s Club and $600,000 for children’s cancer research.
Person’s wife Melissa is on the board for Apron Inc., a nonprofit that offers emergency financial assistance to independent restaurant workers. He said Corbett donated the seed money to get the organization started.
“If a waiter has four flat tires or needs to pay a medical bill then they can get help from Apron. That’s part of Dean’s legacy as much as his recipes,” Person added.
Samuel Dickey credited Corbett with helping him acclimate to the River City after he moved to Louisville in 2002. Dickey said he became a regular at Equus and Jack’s, the lounge Corbett opened next door to it, and considered the chef a friend.
“You always knew you were going to get an excellent experience when you went to his place. It was not just the food either. He’d come out and talk to you. You hate to see such a professional and quality person taken so early,” Dickey lamented at Wednesday’s event.
Anjali Ajamoni had a more personal relationship with Corbett. Her daughter went to school with one of the chef’s three sons. Ajamoni said the best part of Wednesday’s fundraiser was the food, which reminded her of him.
“I was always trying to get him to tell me how to make all of those great things at his restaurants. It has been really great to spend time with other people that miss him,” she said.
“A Taste of Corbett’s: A Tribute Chef Deano” was organized by a committee that included people from different areas of the culinary scene. They included Volare Chef Josh Moore, Food & Dining publish John Carlos White and photographer Dan Dry.
- Those who missed the event can still help Corbett’s family by donating to their GoFund Me page.