It is a rare person who has no enemies, and perhaps an even rarer one who can mobilize people from across a regional food landscape in the amount of time it took for Craig Kuhns to do so.
Well, Kuhns, the affable veteran chef who has been a staple of the Upstate culinary scene for decades, didn’t actually do any of the rallying himself, rather others came together on his behalf.
In a matter of a few days, several fundraisers have been set up for Kuhns, who was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in February. The efforts have spread to include members of the local culinary community, from farmers to chefs to restaurant owners and others with a stake in the local culinary community.
They have come together for Kuhns, who has managed the very unique trait of befriending everyone he’s ever met.
“He has such a prevalent space in the culinary world, from farmers, distributors to chefs and people who met Craig through having a dinner for him,” said Emmie Wood, event coordinator at The Cook’s Station, where Kuhns has worked since August 2020. “Seeing how many different areas have mobilized to pull things together shows what a wonderful asset he is to the culinary world of Greenville and beyond that.”
Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that attacks a person’s nerves and often causes temporary paralysis and intense pain. At his worst, Kuhns was paralyzed from his neck down and in excruciating pain.
Recovery is possible, but the journey to get there is long and fraught with a lot of rehab, therapy and other specialized care that can cost thousands of dollars.
“Craig is the first person to give his shirt off his back if he knew they needed help, whether he knew them or not,” said Patrick McInerney, a co-organizer of an event at Stage 22 Farms on March 28. “He’s all heart. All proceeds go to Craig and his family.”
Kuhns was doing fine. In recent years he’d found a wonderful rhythm working as culinary director for The Cook’s Station. He’d also learned to manage his Type 2 diabetes. And so, while the chef almost never ate sweets, on a recent Wednesday night out with friends, he felt good and decided to indulge in dessert.
The next day, he woke up with numbness in his fingers and toes. Over the next several days, the numbness spread until Kuhns found himself unable to lift himself out of the bathtub.
In less than a week, he’d lost the use of his arms and legs.
But the worst part of the whole experience for Kuhns is not being able to see his 12-year-old daughter.
“Going this much time is hard,” Kuhns said, speaking by phone from his hospital room. “There are the physical days and the mental days. It’s incredibly hard mentally.”
How the culinary community is rallying for Craig
The Cook’s Station fundraiser is planned for April 10. The event includes food from chefs across Greenville, along with drinks, live music and a silent auction full of items donated from local restaurants and beyond.
The $40 ticket gets you access to all of it, with proceeds going to help cover Kuhns’ rehabilitation costs.
The other fundraiser, organized by McInerney, who’d worked with Kuhns at Topsoil Kitchen & Market and Craig Weiner, farm director at Stage 22 Farms, who’d worked with the chef since 2008, will take place March 28. A $50 ticket will get you entrance to a full-on farm party with barbecue (hog provided by Providence Farm) all the fixings and sides from the culinary team at Restaurant 17, beer and wine (provided by Mission Grape) and live music, from West End String Band.
Monies raised will go to help pay for medical bills and rehabilitation expenses. While Kuhns has health insurance, he said, rehabilitation, therapy and the cost to upfit his home to accommodate his new limited mobility will likely be very high.
Kuhns is humbled by the efforts to help.
“I’m a big, burly man, I’m a prideful guy, I’m the guy who’s always helping people and I never asked for help,” Kuhns said, his voice emotional. “And then all of a sudden you find yourself helpless…”
He trails off for a minute.
“It’s just heartwarming and it makes me emotional every time I talk about it,” he said, his voice shaky. “The outcry of support, I don’t have the words to really express my gratitude.”
How to help Craig Kuhns
Cocktail special at Fork & Plough
When: Now – until
Where: Fork & Plough, 1629 E. North St., Greenville
Details: Fork & Plough will feature a special cocktail, proceeds from the sale of which will be given to Kuhns
Hog Raffle at Greenbrier Farms
When: March 15 – 31
Details: Greenbrier Farms is auctioning off two hog halves and donating all funds to Craig Kuhns. Raffle tickets are $20 apiece.
Winners will be selected and notified April 1.
Farm Family Field Party
When: 5-8 p.m., March 28
Where: Stage 22 Farms, 280 River Road, Marietta
Details: Tickets are $50 and include whole hog barbecue, sides, beer, wine, live music and games
Craig Kuhns Fundraiser
When: noon – 5 p.m., April 10
Where: The Cook’s Station, 515 Buncombe St., Greenville
Details: Tickets are $40 and include food from local chefs and beverages noon – 3 p.m. and music and a silent auction until 5 p.m.
What: Cocktail for a Good Cause
When: Now through March 31
Where: Fork & Plough, 1629 E. North St., Greenville
Details: $4 of each Gold Rush cocktail (Maker’s Mark Bourbon, lemon juice, honey) will go to Craig Kuhns.
Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for the Greenville News. She loves the stories recipes tell and finds inspiration in the people behind them. When she’s not exploring local food, she can be found running, both for pleasure and to keep up with her 6-year-old twins. Reach her at [email protected], or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook at facebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.
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This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Chef Craig Kuhns fundraisers unite Greenville SC culinary community