Chef Kyle McKnight brought together more than 20 chefs for a rousing dinner benefiting the Hickory Soup Kitchen.

This job has a lot of perks, but one of the best is seeing how restaurants and chefs around the country work to help their communities. I’ve long been a fan of the Share Our Strength chef dinners held to support No Kid Hungry—I attended one hosted by Chef Ashley Christensen at her flagship restaurant, Poole’s Diner, back in 2014. Four chefs from along the East Coast traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, to take part in that fundraiser.

On March 28, I attended a similar event—this one a Hootenanny hosted by Chef Kyle McKnight at Highland Avenue Kitchen in Hickory, North Carolina—to benefit the Hickory Soup Kitchen. McKnight has since left the restaurant. There are comparable events in cities all around the country, but this particular shindig deserves a shout-out. 

For starters, we’re talking about a fairly small community that is off the beaten path. And yet, more than 20 chefs came to cook for the event, including chef/owners Christensen, Matthew Kelly from Mateo in Durham, and Clark Barlowe of Heirloom in Charlotte. The name-dropping could go on, but suffice it to say I counted 23 food stations, each led by a high-profile chef who had journeyed from the region’s top restaurants. That’s a testament to the good will and truly giving spirit of these chefs. 

Chef David Bancroft, owner of Acre in Auburn, Alabama, had driven more than 350 miles to share his delicious house-cured meats. He said it “took a few days” to assemble the goodies and make the trek, but I’m guessing he contributed at least four days of his time—and the time of some staff—to help raise money for needy people in a community that will likely never send a diner to his door. Again, it speaks to the generosity and willingness of this industry to help where needed. 

In addition to the chefs, about a dozen beverage companies hosted tasting stations and bars, including some of the state’s finest—Fullsteam Brewery, Cardinal Gin, and Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery, to name a few. Making all of all this possible was restaurateur Meg Jenkins Locke, owner of Carolina Moon Hospitality. The group’s three concepts—Highland Avenue, The Crossing at Hollar Mill, and American Honor Ale House—share a historic building that formerly housed the Hollar Hosiery Mill and regularly contribute food to the local cause.

It’s always amazing to see the outpouring of support that this industry inspires (some folks at the Hootenanny had driven in from South Carolina and Georgia to see what the event entailed and in hopes of being able to participate next year). Feeding the hungry is just one cause that chefs are embracing: The HALO Effect (page 44) profiles the positive actions being taken by chefs and restaurateurs to promote healthy, active lifestyles.  The message that’s spreading, from restaurants throughout communities: Eat Well, Live with Care.

Expert Takes, Feature, Philanthropy