Family in disbelief over chefs’ ‘overwhelming’ kindness

A man whose mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer is sharing an incredible story about the two Baltimore chefs who drove six hours to deliver her favorite meal.

Brandon Jones lives with his wife Rina, in Baltimore. For years, Rina’s mother would visit the couple from her home in Vermont — always being sure to eat at her favorite Baltimore restaurant, Ekiben. She’d order the exact same dish every time: Tempura broccoli with fresh herbs, red onion and rice vinegar.

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“She had always told us, ‘When I’m on my deathbed, I want to have that broccoli,’” Rina told the Washington Post of her mom.

Rina’s 72-year-old mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in December 2020 and was taking a turn for the worse. Rina and Brandon had planned to visit her in Vermont, possibly to say their goodbyes, so Brandon brainstormed a way to get his mother-in-law her favorite meal.

“The drive to Vermont is six hours and tempura broccoli obviously will not taste the same after the long ride,” Brandon wrote in a Facebook post. “I reached out to Ekiben’s owners to see if there was a way for us to either get the recipe or some of the ingredients to bring it up and cook it for her.”

The response, Brandon said, was “overwhelming.”

Ekiben co-owner Steve Chu replied saying he and his co-founder, Ephrem Abebe, were willing to meet Brandon and Rina in Vermont — to cook the meal fresh and in person.

“I emailed back, saying, ‘You do know that this is Vermont we’re talking about, right?’” Brandon told the Washington Post. “It’s a six-hour drive.”

But Chu responded, “No problem. You tell us the date, time and location and we’ll be there.”

The next day, Chu, Abebe and their colleague Joe Añonuevo set up a makeshift kitchen in the bed of a truck outside Rina’s mom’s home in Vermont.

“My mom kept saying, ‘I don’t understand — you drove all the way up here to cook for me?’” Rina shared. “She was so happy and touched to have that broccoli. She couldn’t believe it.”

Rina’s mom struggled to eat the food because of sores in her mouth but still managed to devour her favorite meal.

“My mom cried later about their generosity and so did I,” Rina said. “They made so much food that she had it again the next day for lunch. It’s something we’ll never forget — I’ll carry that positive memory with me, always.”

“To me, it was a huge honor to be able to help fulfill the family’s wishes,” Chu told the Post. “This is about her, not us. There was a lot of good, positive energy in doing this.”

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