One of the the things that’s struck me about working with so many chefs here at Food Republic is the amount of time and effort they devote to charitable causes. The chefs’ reputation is to work hard and play harder, and for some, that may be the case, but many of the culinary icons I’ve come across over the past few months have a passion and commitment to helping others that you rarely see in other high-profile professions.
I’m not talking about merely writing checks. These guys and gals are going out and giving their services as chefs, teachers, celebrities and as human beings, taking on tasks as mundane as loading supplies on trucks to more ambitious projects such as hosting silent auctions or volunteering cooking classes.
They rarely ask for publicity for these efforts, understandably, but I feel they deserve some credit. And I also think that the chefs featured here have chosen to throw their support behind some great organizations and causes that I hope will inspire you if you’re in a position to give this holiday season.
I’ve listed the chefs in alphabetical order by last name, featured quotes from the chef when possible, and linked to their charitable organizations of choice.
The chef behind Miami standouts Michy’s and Sra. Martinez says she fell in love with Common Threads during a trip to Chicago, and decided to bring a branch to Miami. From the Common Threads website: “Common Threads teaches low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals because we believe that through our hands-on cooking classes we can help prevent childhood obesity and reverse the trend of generations of non-cookers, while celebrating our cultural differences and the things people all over the world have in common.”
The chef-owner of Salumeria Rosi on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, supports the Center for Discovery in upstate New York. Chef sent us a note explaining, “The Center for Discovery offers a community supported agriculture program complete with an organic bakery and livestock operation at Stonewall Preserve. Located between New York City and Albany, it offers adult and pediatric rehabilitation programs for disabled individuals in addition to career opportunities.”
The chef-owner of NYC’s Kin Shop and Perilla supports the Libby Ross Foundation, which assists women afflicted with breast cancer through a variety of programs. “A number of important women in my life have been afflicted with breast cancer so this charity is very near and dear to me,” he says. “Beyond that, there are millions of women affected around the world and the Libby Ross Foundation is a great resource for them.”
The French master, whose US restaurants include Benoit and Adour, supports President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative. Chef Ducasse sent us a message explaining why: “The Clinton Global Initiative resonates with me for its globally focused mission that affects change on a local level. In partnership with them, I started a program to specifically help women from an impoverished suburb of Paris who have limited opportunities to move their lives forward. The program, initiated in 2010, is designed to educate 15 women to receive a culinary degree in a year (instead of two) while working in one of my restaurants. There are several restaurants that will place them once they finish the certification program. It is rewarding for me to see them push themselves forward and build their future. Now in its second year, the program opens to other suburbs of Paris, and other chefs joined me in welcoming these women in their kitchen such as Guy Savoy, Alain Dutournier and Joel Robuchon.”
The man behind NYC’s Back Forty wants to share his thoughts about numerous charities he supports, and why. “Sometimes it’s important to honor the folks who work to improve the quality of our lives in New York City rather than just think about neediness and deprivation,” he says. “This year I selected three organizations that have made life in New York immeasurably richer artistically, operationally and of course gastronomically. (1) For our eyes: New York Children’s International Film Festival is currently running a retrospective of the great animation directors from Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Alternative film has a strong foothold in New York but alternative film with kids in mind is the territory of this annual film festival. (2) For our bodies: Transportation Alternatives. I am a big biker but New York got so much better this year for all with the addition of so many dedicated bike lanes. Hats off to Janette Sadik-Khan at DOT and to TA for leading the charge . (3) And for our bellies: The New Amsterdam Market has brought a wider reach of what local food means, acting as a place for local farmers and small artisanal producers to sell their goods.
The executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue Market and Hill Country Chicken is a support of the Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry Campaign. “ I think it is vital that we feed our children; adults can get a job to work and feed themselves, but children rely on others to feed them,” says Karmel. “We need to create a system that feeds hungry children and provides them with nourishment that will allow them to grow and thrive.”
Murphy, the man behind Benchmarc restaurants, not to mention a one-time guest editor of Food Republic, supports the Share Our Strength-No Kid Hungry campaign as a member of its task force. “Some of the best times in my life have always been associated with food and family,” he says. “The idea that some children go hungry is something I simply can’t bear, especially being a father, and I’m extremely passionate about assisting Share Our Strength end childhood hunger by 2015.” Murphy is also very active in City Harvest along with many other NYC chefs. “City Harvest is amazing because it’s an organization where you can absolutely see the money you donate put to use,” he says. “As a Chef and restaurant owner I see so much food go to waste, but knowing that City Harvest’s trucks are on the road day and night, rescuing that food that would otherwise go to waste and delivering it to New York’s hungry is a relief. City Harvest does incredible work for this city and this year my company, Benchmarc Restaurants is proud to be supporting City Harvest through a virtual food drive during the holidays.”
Gayle Pirie and John Clark
The chef/owners behind San Francisco’s Mission District mainstay Foreign Cinema and its sausage-loving offspring Showdogs also wanted to help kids, this time through music. “For Foreign Cinema’s recent 12th anniversary, we wanted to raise funds and donate to a children’s charity,” Pirie and Clark write. “This year’s journey led us to a noble non-profit called Little Kids Rock. The organization works with underserved public schools across the country stripped of music programs and in deep need of musical instruments and a music curriculum. Research reveals that children who play musical instruments are 52% more likely to continue on to college. There is a local chapter right here in San Francisco serving the Bay Area, and we were lucky to be treated to an inspirational acoustic and electric performance this year, comprised of local children who received such support. To hear the 4th through 7th graders play from innercity Richmond, CA, who received aid from the program just after six months, was enough to seal the deal for us. Their pride was contagious, and their talent, palpable.”
The multinational restaurateur supports numerous causes, including Meals on Wheels. “We believe it’s important to give back to the communities that have contributed to the success of our companies over the years,” Puck says. “Meals on Wheels helps people find local senior meal programs, helps local meal programs recruit volunteers and helps businesses develop corporate sponsorship and volunteer programs for senior meal programs. During the holidays, it’s especially important to make sure everyone has a good meal.”
Food Republic’s co-founder and the owner of Red Rooster Harlem is a longtime UNICEF ambassador, active in its clean water programs around the globe. He’s also committed to City Harvest and other charities, but he wanted to shout-out C-CAP, Careers Through Culinary Arts Program. “The goal of the organization is to help underserved teens in cities throughout the US achieve success in higher education through the culinary arts,” says Samuelsson. “They begin to train in high school and compete for scholarships to culinary school and college/university. It’s great to see these teens empowered through food and become future chefs/restaurant owners. I’ve even employed C-CAP grads in my kitchens throughout the years.
The Mercadito maestro, who thrills Mexican food lovers with restaurants in Chicago, Miami and New York City, also has a fondness for Share Our Strength. His team created Tacos for Strength with the organization. “With our Tacos for Strength program, we are grateful to the nationally acclaimed chefs who are lending their talents and inventive recipes from different cuisines and backgrounds for their monthly signature tacos,” Sandoval says, referring to participating chefs including Andrew Carmellini, Michael Schwartz and Stephanie Izard. “Since monetary donations keep Share Our Strength’s mission alive, our Tacos for Strength program allows guests to try a limited time offering at the restaurant from accomplished chefs while at the same time supporting a great cause with a portion of sales benefiting Share Our Strength.”
Are you a chef or restaurateur who wants to mention your favorite charity? Add to the ideas in the comments below.