Many of today’s chefs want to change the world. One plate, or bowl, at a time.
Maggie Zaccara, chef and owner of Hope & Olive in Greenfield, Massachusetts, hosts Free Soup & Game Night. Since the restaurant opening in 2007, the monthly event raises money for a number of local charities. Participants partake of soups and breads from the restaurant, and those provided by the designated charity and other food suppliers. Games and conversation round out the evening.
It’s free, but they hope patrons generously fill the donation jars scattered around. The collected proceeds go to the designated charity of the evening. Hope and Olive’s staff choose underfunded community organizations. In addition to the donation jars, the restaurant donates the evening’s bar tab and tips, too. Hope and Olive’s motto: “We serve homegrown, farm-inspired food & drink, presented simply, using the best ingredients from our neighborhood. We believe in compassionate service, and strive to engage in our community with attention and care.”
For over six years, Mario Batali has supported the New York City Food Bank, raising $1.4 million in 2010. He created sixteen restaurants on the East and West Coasts, including Osteria Mozza, Esca; and Eataly NYC, an artisan marketplace. Batali co-chairs and hosts the Food Bank’s annual Can-Do Awards Dinner and auction (http://www.foodbanknyc.org/go/cando), with celebrity guests. He’s also donated some proceeds from selected books to America’s Second Harvest (now called Feeding America – http://feedingamerica.org/). His Mario Batali Foundation (http://www.mariobatalifoundation.org/) provides children with the mental and physical nourishment to allow them to dream big and “become an active force for change” in the world.
Award-winning chef and author Marcus Samuelsson, of the Red Rooster Harlem and C-House, works with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) (http://www.ccapinc.org/index.php). Recent high school graduates get the chance to intern at restaurants. Chef Samuelsson helps in those placements. The students get a potentially life-altering experience and learn culinary skills for life. These might include classes such as knife handling and food safety. Students also get mentoring from top chefs. The program also helps them decide if the restaurant and hospitality industry is a fit. The organization holds an annual benefit, as well as a competition.
Cathal Armstrong, Chef and Co-Owner of Restaurant Eve, founded Chefs as Parents inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s fight against childhood obesity. He and others brainstormed at the White House to improve school lunches. Later, Armstrong and some of Washington’s most celebrated chefs partook of Washington, D.C school lunches. Unsurprisingly, no rave reviews ensued. Their mission became to change school lunches one lunch at a time. They aim to bring local, nutritious food into the schools that children will eat, raising funds through their contacts and influence. The group is in process of adopting a school to serve as a working model from which to derive measurable results to use in additional schools. Similar to what Chef Alice Waters achieved with one school, but on a larger scale.
Alice Waters, Executive Chef, founder and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, fervently believes “that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.” She began The Edible Schoolyard in 1996 at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. After convincing the principal and staff, together they created a one-acre garden (from fruits to grains to flowers) on an asphalt parking lot. The children eagerly learn about the food cycle—from seed to table. They also tend to the garden, and the food cycle became part of the curriculum. The project includes an adjacent kitchen-classroom. This isn’t your mother’s Home Ec class: she didn’t need a green thumb, know various plant varieties or understand photosynthesis. Chef Waters now also promotes a national program with the School Lunch Initiative. It proposes specific lunch nutrition and food education, similar to recognized results of The Edible Schoolyard, as part of the curriculum for students nationwide.
Customers hail the splendid offerings—both menus and cook books—of all of these chefs, and many more who support equally great causes. Check out their websites. If you’re in the neighborhood, visit and try out the menu, knowing you’re supporting philanthropy that feeds mind, body and soul.