A BIG SPREAD A scene from last year’s Taste of the Nation fundraiser for Maine’s hungry children.
For many Maine kids, the end of the academic year means an end to regular meals. "One in four kids doesn't know where the next nutritious meal is coming from and there's 60,000 children across Maine in that situation," says John Woods, committee chairman of the Maine chapter of Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that aims to raise $100,000 next week to feed Maine's kids.
Woods has assembled 26 local chefs (up from 10 last year) to participate in a charity event, called "Taste of the Nation," slated for June 27 at Portland's Ocean Gateway International Marine Terminal. The money raised through ticket sales, auctions, and raffle tickets will support the Preble Street Teen Center, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Cultivating Community, and East End Kids Katering.
While participating chef Rob Evans, executive chef at Hugo's, says it's not really a competition, there will be for the first time an Iron Chef-inspired element. "We have six stoves and it's become the center point of the event," he says. Evans will be joined by Steve Corry (Five Fifty-Five), Sam Hayward (Fore Street), Jeff Landry (The Farmer's Table), Larry Matthews (Back Bay Grill), and Lee Skawinski (Cinque Terre) in the VIP tent to show off their culinary skills.
In the spirit of the television cooking show, video cameras will document the chefs' progress, including on-the-spot interviews about their culinary strategies. While this may be more of a showcase opportunity than a competition, whichever Iron Chef raises the most money will be guaranteed a return slot in next year's competition.
Getting together in this kind of environment is a novelty for chefs, but the purpose of the fundraiser is not lost on Evans. He wants to draw attention to hungry kids, poor nutrition, and the absence of quality food preparation in many schools and households.
"I think about it all the time," he says. "On a simple level, the Food Channel has made a lot of people at least aware of cooking, but there's a lot more to it. Not everyone has the money to go out and do these big recipes and a lot of them are intimidated by cooking and the nutritional aspect and hands-on cooking itself."
That's where Evans sees chefs continuing to influence the public about food preparation. "Chefs have that information and we do it for survival and that's how we get through the winter: By using cost-effective foods. How do you take potatoes and do something tasty with it? We're the people who have the information," he says.
Although the event's 400 tickets sold out just prior to press time, you can still buy $100 raffle tickets for a new BMW (a one-in-500 gamble). And because of its growing popularity with the general public and culinary community, the organization is within reach of its $100,000 goal. "In the past we've done wonderful work, but not reached the number of kids who need this help," says Woods.
Leischen Stelter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.