Tonight’s Taste of the Nation event at the Kravis Center will see the biggest names in the area restaurants participating in a food and wine extravaganza.
Some, especially the newer ones, come for the prestige it offers or to showcase their foods to a new audience. But the ones who organize and who return or sign on without asking are the ones who “get it,” Zach Bell says. He takes the charity angle seriously.
Bell, executive chef at the Addison Reserve Country Club, is the lead organizer and directed the rebirth of the charity event in Palm Beach County after a long absence. This is the third year he’s led fellow chefs in the dine-around that benefits Share Our Strength’s No Child Hungry campaign to feed children in South Florida.
One in five kids has hunger issues
“I personally got involved with Share Our Strength in 2005,” he said, “starting with dinners at Cafe Boulud.” He is the former executive chef at the Cafe, and was involved in raising funds for the organization working with Daniel Boulud. To help create a bigger audience, he revived the dine-around in 2011.
“I was just at the National Leadership Conference (for hunger relief). We talked about why people get involved. At most events, it gets you exposure, showcases your restaurant, etc. But for those of us who keep getting involved, it’s for what it means. Living here in Palm Beach County, we see the disparity every day between the affluent and needy. One in five kids in America don’t know where their next meal will come from. The goal is to end childhood hunger, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Surveys and program tracking shows there are 16 million children experiencing hunger on a daily basis, he said. “There were 11 million when I started in 2005. It’s more easily fixed than not, though.”
He said raising the state’s sales tax by a half-percent would generate a lot of money that could go a long way toward hunger relief. “It used to be 6.5 percent. Is that half-percent going to break anyone?”
Partnerships in the community help. A chef in New York partnered with farmer’s market to teach how to use fresh vegetables. When food stamps or vouchers were used to buy fresh produce, the buyer got double their money’s worth for fresh vegetables and fruits. Chefs showed up to demonstrate cooking with the foods and showing shoppers how to get the most from the foods they bought.
“They’re providing more nutritious foods, plus it gives farmers a reason to grow more. And they’re teaching people how to use the foods they buy with a $10 budget. It’s a win-win all around. We’re trying to start something like that in Palm Beach County,” the chef said.
Local programs help youngsters
Bell points to local programs like the free breakfasts that are now offered to every child in Palm Beach County public schools. “We’re the only county in Florida that has the universal free breakfast program. It’s taken away some of the stigma of hunger by offering a free breakfast to any child who wants one – not just the needy.”
It’s the most important brain-fuel meal for kids out there, he said. “McDonald’s offers free breakfasts to kids taking their SATs. The thinking is, if you eat breakfast, you’ll do better on tests. So why not give them breakfast all year? We’re creating human capital for the next generation – and it’s all about what we’re feeding them now.”
Over the summer, new programs are kicking in to provide a bag of groceries to needy families every Friday, and there are summer lunch programs. Getting that info to parents is tricky, however, he said. The ones who need it are not on computers or social media. “We’re trying to promote the 211 hotline for help, open to anyone.”
Taste of the Nation
The once again annual event, Taste of the Nation, is one of dozens held in major cities during the year. Bell is helped by co-chairs Lindsay Autry, executive chef at the Sundy House in Delray Beach; Clay Conley, chef at Buccan and Imoto in Palm Beach; and Allen Susser, chef owner of Chef Allen Consulting of Miami – a decades-long participant in South Florida Share Our Strength events.
“This year we have 40 restaurants participating – the Who’s Who of chefs here. We’ve had to turn people away.”
Chef Conley is looking forward to the night. “There are a lot of these events in this area – and a lot of the time you don’t really know what it’s for – where the money really goes or if it stays around here. It’s nice to know where it’s going and it’s a cause chefs can certainly get behind.”
Now a father, childhood hunger relief is even more meaningful to him, he said. “As I get older, it means much more to me.” He’ll be cooking a ceviche dish at the VIP reception representing Buccan.
Other participating restaurants include: 3800 Ocean, Angle at The Ritz-Carlton, Bistro 1001 at the West Palm Beach Marriott, Burger Bar, Cabo Flats, Cafe Boulud, Cafe Chardonnay, Casa D’Angelo, Chops Lobster Bar, Citrus Grillhouse, City Fish Market, Cordon Bleu Catering, DADA, and Graze at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach.
Also: Guanabanas, Hollywood Cupcake, I Heart Olive Oil, Ironwood Steak & Seafood at PGA National, Malcolm’s at the Omphoy, Max’s Harvest, PB Catch, Pistache, Prosecco Cafe, South Shores Tavern, Sundy House, Susie’s Scrumptious Sweets, Talay Thai Cuisine, Temple Orange at The Ritz-Carlton, Texas de Brazil – Palm Beach Gardens, The Little House, The Living Room, The Sugar Monkey and Whole Foods Market.
Some private country clubs were invited this year. Bell said these properties don’t get a chance to often participate with restaurants in charitable events, but were welcomed this year. Those providing foods are: the Addison Reserve Country Club, Admiral’s Cove Country Club, Ballen Isles Country Club and Polo Club of Boca Raton.
Along with food and wine stations, a silent auction and live entertainment will be part of the event. Tickets are still available at the door.
Taste of the Nation
- When: 6:30-9:30 p.m., Thursday, June 20, 2013 (6 p.m. for VIP entrance)
- Where: Kravis Center, Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
- Tickets: VIP, $150; General admission, $90
- For more information: http://ce.strength.org/palmbeach