Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of his restaraunt, Cured. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of his restaurant Cured. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

For Chef Steve McHugh, the word “cured” holds multiple meanings. His restaurant, Cured at the Pearl Brewery, is known for savory charcuterie plates and cured salumi. The word is also a reminder of McHugh’s successful battle against non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

On Sunday, Sept. 13, Chef McHugh will create great food for a good cause during the first annual “Cured for a Cure Dinner,” which features a unique five-course meal prepared by a team of guest chefs. The dinner aims to raise awareness and funds for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), an organization that helped him and his family throughout the diagnosis and treatment process.

Since the restaurant opened in late 2013, McHugh has donated funds to rotating charities each quarter, providing $1 from every charcuterie board sold in-house. In 2014, he joined the board of trustees for LLS’ South Central Texas Chapter, which campaigns to raise money to find a cure.

The main room at Cured. Photo by Scott Ball.
General Manager Robert Rodriguez prepares for dinner service as patrons arrive to the main dining room. Photo by Scott Ball.

McHugh was introduced to the LLS at age 35, shortly after his own diagnosis. Now 40, the chef credits his successful recovery to LLS, and their investment in finding a cure for blood cancer. The organization has developed several successful drugs, including Rituxan, which helped McHugh become cancer-free just one year after his diagnosis.

“They don’t just make that money on their own, they need people to raise that money,” McHugh said. “The millions of people who helped raise money for the LLS before I got involved pretty much saved my life.

McHugh said he started raising money as a way to continue the giving cycle while saving some lives in the process. 

“This was kind of my way of saying ‘How can I be involved and help the LLS?’ but do it the way that I would like to do it, because I’m not going to go run a marathon, I’ll tell you that right now,” McHugh admitted with a laugh. “You can only go to so many golf tournaments throughout the year, so I started thinking about what can I do that I know how to do.”

McHugh knows food. He developed his butcher skills and bold flavors while working for Chef John Besh at restaurants in New Orleans and San Antonio. McHugh brought his love of great food and charcuterie to Cured, which was named among the 50 “America’s Best New Restaurants 2014” by Bon Appétit and was selected as a runner-up for Esquire’s 2014 Food & Drink Awards.

Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of a selection of cured meats. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of a selection of cured meats. Photo by Scott Ball.

“This is something that I’ve talked about with other chefs in the city, and something that I think San Antonio kind of fails at – they don’t bring a lot of other chefs from other cities to this city,” Chef McHugh said.  

“A lot of times when you hear about a special dinner, it’s like four or five guys from San Antonio putting on a special dinner, but it’s like ‘I can go to all y’all’s restaurants,’” McHugh said. “I started thinking ‘What’s really going to set us apart from every other chef dinner that’s happening around town?’ I decided we should bring in some people who aren’t from here.”

Cured Sous Chef, Ken Edmonds, prepares for dinner service. Photo by Scott Ball.
Cured Sous Chef, Ken Edmonds, prepares for dinner service. Photo by Scott Ball.

After a few phone calls and emails, McHugh found chefs who were happy to donate their time and talents during the special event, including: John Tesar (Oak and Knife) of Dallas, Mike Gulotta (MoPho) and Phillip Lopez (Root, Square Root and Root Squared) of New Orleans and Chef Nicole Patel of Austin (Delysia Chocolatier).

“Chef Steve and I worked together for many years, and with John Besh right after Katrina, helping John rebuild his restaurant group into the formidable force it is today,” Chef Lopez said. “Every Chef eventually will have a cause to stand strong for and Chef Steve’s cause is LLS. I stand strong with him when he asked for help in supporting his cause because he is a chef who I have personally worked side by side with in the trenches of the kitchen.”

The five-course dinner will include incredible dishes from each chef, including smoked pork jowl, duck heart Frito pie seasoned with Berbere spice and delicious Gianduja for dessert. Chef McHugh is preparing a play on the traditional “Steak and Eggs,” opting to use quail eggs from Peeler Farms, freshly baked brioche and a ribeye steak served with hominy and a plum mustard sauce.

The restaurant reported 60 seats had sold by the end of August, and they expect to meet or surpass their 80 ticket goal before the dinner on Sept. 13.

McHugh extended the collaboration to organizations dedicated to fighting blood cancer, and invited companies like Mission Restaurant Supply to co-sponsor and support the event.

“When we met with Chef McHugh about this event our ideas really meshed, it was the perfect fit,” Fannie Lewis, a staff member for Mission Restaurant Supply said. “We’ve all been impacted by cancer and coming together through this initiative provides a fun way to raise awareness and funds for an incredible cause.”

Mission Restaurant Supply has already purchased 20 tickets for the event, and will contribute gifts and funds to reimburse the out-of-town chefs, who are traveling on their own time and money.

McHugh emphasized the importance of the event sponsors, including Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling , which will provide bourbon and beers, and Republic, which thoughtfully paired wines to complement each dinner course. H-E-B has also donated gift cards to help the restaurant cover food costs.

“Without the sponsors, it just doesn’t work,” McHugh said. “I’m providing the vehicle and they’re helping with a lot of the things that help drive this, and I think that’s what is so exciting to people.”

Other companies, including Foda, The R&K Group, and Cosmo Tech are providing publicity and equipment needed for the event, and Hotel Valencia will host the out-of-town chefs during their stay in San Antonio.

Chef McHugh hopes the collaborative dinner will bring a new audience to the restaurant, and provide attendees with an intimate yet distinct dining experience.

Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of his restaraunt, Cured. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of his restaraunt, Cured. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“It’s not a $100 dinner where the food and wine are just O.K., we’re bringing in great chefs who are in their own elements. Cooking is what they do everyday in their restaurants,” McHugh said. “I want to give people something different, something they can’t get anywhere around here, and this is it.”

Cured for a Cure costs $350 per person and includes a complimentary valet parking service, a welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres and live music and the five-course dinner paired with selected wines. Tickets can be purchased online here. Visit www.lls.org to learn more about ongoing efforts and events dedicated to finding a cure.

Featured/top image: Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of his restaraunt, Cured.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.