Daniel Krieger Photography, courtesy of Share Our Strength and Gramercy Tavern.

The Strength Chefs Wield

An outpouring of support for No Kid Hungry results because diners are drawn to chef-hosted events.

A multi-course dinner prepared by five highly regarded rising-star chefs is sure to whet some appetites. But the food—albeit memorable and delicious—was not the most amazing aspect when Chef Ashley Christensen hosted a No Kid Hungry event at Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina.

For this editor, the primary reason to attend was to support the cause, but enjoying the feast—prepared by Chef Christensen along with chefs Mike Lata, of FIG in Charleston, South Carolina; Barry Maiden, of Boston’s Hungry Mother; Robert Newton, of Seersucker in Brooklyn, New York; and Ryan Smith, of Atlanta’s Empire State South—was certainly a huge perk.

Like FSR, the chefs were all there to support the cause—and support it they did, with passionate commitments that exceeded expectations. In addition to preparing special dishes for the dinner, each chef had donated a unique food experience that was part of a live auction during the event. Inevitably, bidding wars ensued and—not just once, but several times—the chefs stepped up to increase the number of events they would host, enabling multiple “winners” and procuring even more donations to feed needy children.

Those selfless acts of support left the most pleasant lingering taste, but the real story of the night was the power that a chef wields to effect positive change.

Diners were dropping some serious dollars to attend the event, and thousands more to purchase one of the auctioned experiences. Yet, repeatedly the other guests told FSR this was their first exposure to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign—they were there for the restaurant and Chef Christensen.

That loyalty and influence is true in large cities as well. Consider the Autumn Harvest Dinner held in September at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. More than $400,000 was raised at the 20th annual dinner hosted by Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group at the landmark Manhattan restaurant—all to benefit Share Our Strength. In addition to Gramercy Tavern’s chef, Michael Anthony, other chefs headlining the event included Linton Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch in Atlanta; Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner in Chicago; Marc Vetri from Philadelphia’s Alla Spina, Amis, Vetri, and Osteria; and Mindy Segal from Chicago’s Hot Chocolate.

Chefs have been hosting No Kid Hungry dinners since 2005, raising more than $7 million, and in 2012 alone chefs hosted 20 No Kid Hungry dinners that raised $2.1 million. A comparable number of hosted dinners were slated for this year.

Debbie Shore, who co-founded Share Our Strength in 1984 with her brother Bill, says dinners at upscale restaurants are just one of several opportunities chefs have to become involved in feeding the more than 16 million hungry children in the U.S.

Since 1988, Share Our Strength has also hosted Taste of the Nation events, working with thousands of chefs to host more than 40 events annually, and raising more than $82.5 million.

In 2008, Share Our Strength began the Dine Out For No Kid Hungry campaign, creating an opportunity for all restaurants to make a difference, from casual- and family-dining chains to small independents. In 2012, more than 8,000 restaurants participated, raising nearly $6 million. This year’s campaign, which concluded September 30, was on track to set new records in participation and monies raised.

“If more multi-unit restaurants come on board, I think we could double the participation next year,” says Shore. “And we are working to build relationships with new chefs.”

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