BUCKTOWN — It was supposed to be the happiest time for Chicago Firehouse chef Dean Zanella and his wife, Mary Reidy Zanella.
She had given birth to twin girls on Feb. 13. The couple's second wedding anniversary was coming up. And just a few days before his daughters were born, Dean Zanella had talked with his boss about the possibility of heading up two other restaurants.
But eight days after delivery, with one baby already home and the second about to be released from the hospital, the unimaginable happened: Mary died.
She had a blood clot in her legs, likely due to childbirth, her husband said. She was 40.
On March 31, Chicago's chef community will come together at Hot Chocolate, 1747 N. Damen Ave., for a dinner — they're calling it "An (I AM) FUNdraiser," a nod to one of Mary's trademark sayings — for Zanella, 48, and his daughters that will be bittersweet, to say the least.
Eleven chefs (and counting) will cook dinner that evening alongside Hot Chocolate's Mindy Segal. They include John Hogan, formerly of Keefer's; Roger Herring of Grand Tour; Bill Kim of bellyQ, Urbanbelly and Belly Shack; Rob Levitt of the Butcher and Larder; La Sirena Clandestina's John Manion; Elissa Narow of Perennial Virant and Vie; Piccolo Sogno's Tony Priolo; Giuseppe Tentori of GT Fish and Oyster; Heather Terhune of Sable Kitchen and Bar, and Takashi Yagihashi of Takashi and Slurping Turtle.
Chefs and others have donated silent auction items that include a VIP package at the Metro, a two-night hotel stay in Boston, with tickets to a Cubs-Red Sox game, and gift certificates to three Brooklyn restaurants.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Zanella Children Trust Fund. In addition, taco-and-whiskey bar Big Star, 1531 N. Damen Ave., will donate a portion of its sales between 9:30 p.m. and midnight on March 31 to the Zanella fund.
The cost of the dinner is $200. Only 100 tickets will be sold. Call 773-489-1747 to reserve.
By Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after emailing a news release for the event, Hot Chocolate already had gotten 40 reservations, said Jenn Galdes, Zanella's former publicist who is helping to organize the event.
At least two more fundraising dinners are in the works for later this year. The family also has an online donation page on the Give Forward website.
Dean Zanella returned to work for a few hours Tuesday — a day after what would have been his second wedding anniversary — and said he planned to go into the South Loop restaurant this weekend as well.
"Gotta get my mind off it," he said Wednesday.
His daughters are healthy and well, he said. They turned 4 weeks old Thursday.