‘I am lucky’: Community raises $50,000 in 36 hours for severely injured chef

african kings

It was a nightmare scenario.

A Lexington, Kentucky, restaurant owner was handling a 20-gallon pot of boiling peanut sauce on June 3 when the unthinkable happened — he slipped and fell, spilling the bubbling sauce on himself, causing second-degree burns on more than 50 percent of his body.

“It was awful. But I am here right now talking to you, and I am lucky,” Mamadou “Sav” Savané, 52, chef and owner of Sav’s Grill & West African Cuisine, told TODAY.com from his hospital room Thursday night.

It’s no wonder that the community quickly rallied around the chef — known for finding the best in every situation — raising an astounding $50,000 in just 36 hours to help with his medical expenses and to help keep his restaurant afloat.

“It was a natural response. I thought, ‘Heck, I can do an online fundraiser,’” said Chuck Creacy, a publisher of three local magazines, who helped raise $1.7 million for local non-profits last year. Already familiar with the online platforms for crowdfunding, he quickly set up a fund and raised $4,000 in the first 30 minutes.

“Sav’s just the nicest fella in the whole world. You want to help him because he works really hard — he works seven days a week — he has this huge, contagious smile, his food is wonderful and everyone loves him,” Creacy said. “And we have an amazing community — very generous people.”

Fortuitously, just a month or so before the accident, Savané’s son, Bangaly, who is about to turn 20, started to write down his father’s recipes, which Sav learned from his mother while growing up in West Africa. Until then, all of the restaurant’s recipes had been in the chef’s head.

“We just had a feeling,” Bangaly said about what prompted him to transcribe the recipes. “When my dad is the only one who knows how to make these sauces, and this restaurant is my family’s livelihood… Had this happened before, we could not afford that. We have bills to pay and employees who depend on us.”

Savané moved to the United States 21 years ago with his wife, Rachel, a former Peace Corp. volunteer, and opened the restaurant six years ago.

Bangaly, who is studying to become a commercial airline pilot one day, has been holding down the fort in the kitchen, along with his mom, sister Diaka, 15, fellow employees and even volunteers.

“By the time I am well, the restaurant would have been bankrupt,” Savané said. “I’m so proud of him. In the last two weeks, he grew up very, very, very fast.”

Click here to read more.