Charity comes from the heart … but sometimes via the stomach.
Chicago is an obsessive foodie town to its core, but it’s also a city of big-hearted people who are eager to give back. What happens when the two ideologies collide? The foodie charity event, and Chicago has perfected it.
Most people love a good auction, especially to raise money for a reputable cause. But when you add in gourmet experiences that go far beyond the gift certificate — such as dinner for 10 in Rick Bayless’ garden, a personal cooking lesson with Paul Kahan or Carrie Nahabedian, or perhaps tagging along on a review with Breakfast Queen Ina Pinkney — the bidding can go sky-high, and the charity benefits.
The key piece of the puzzle, though, is the celebrity chef angle. When else would you get to sample the cuisine of numerous nationally known chefs and restaurants all at one go? Or sip your way through a plethora of lush wines, craft beers and artisanal distilled products? The foodie charity event brings it all together in a neat package.
To be fair, the trend didn’t start here. In 1981, then-New York Magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene joined forces with the legendary James Beard to raise funds for feeding New York City’s homebound elderly on weekends and holidays when deliveries weren’t otherwise happening. They financed Citymeals on Wheels largely through friends and colleagues in the hospitality industry. In 1985, NYC chefs Jonathan Waxman and Larry Forgione planned a birthday party for Beard that became a memorial, bringing in notable chefs from around the country to honor him. That was the first Chefs’ Tribute to Citymeals on Wheels; the 32nd will be held at New York City’s Rockefeller Center on June 12.
By this point, you should be both hungry … and inspired. So be sure to check out these annual Chicago charity events that feature the food and beverages of your dreams, all for a good cause.
July 20, 2017
This is one of the hippest events around. Each summer, more than 100 of Chicago’s top chefs and craft beverage suppliers set up shop in Lincoln Park, offering tasting portions of comestibles featuring the local and sustainable produce, meat and dairy products found at the market. When the weather is cooperating, it’s like the best picnic ever. Proceeds go to GCM’s educational programs, including Edible Gardens, Club Sprouts and compost program, and access initiatives (Link/SNAP) for underserved populations.
Sept. 22-24, 2017
This year marks the 10th edition of Chicago Gourmet, an outdoor fine food and beverage festival held in Millennium Park. Spearheaded by the Illinois Restaurant Association to showcase Chicago’s incredible restaurant scene, it’s grown exponentially with the addition of title partners Bon Appetit and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Pre-events like the Hamburger Hop have drawn huge crowds; special tickets are sold for the Grand Cru tent, which houses some of the world’s best wines. Proceeds from the online auctions and raffles will be donated to the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which provides scholarships to culinary students and continuing education for industry professionals.
Oct. 20, 2017
This culinary showcase features Chicago’s top chefs sampling their best dishes, combined with craft cocktails, beer and wine, special auction packages and live music. This year’s event, held at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, raises funds for the March of Dimes’ campaign to end premature births, thereby increasing a baby’s odds for survival and good health.
Nov. 10, 2017
Inspired by the success of New York City’s Citymeals on Wheels, this longstanding event brings in all-star chefs from Chicago and around the country to cook for a two-part event: the Tasting Party, a dine-around event with 40 restaurant and cocktail stations and silent auction; and an earlier six-course VIP Chef’s Table dinner that pairs three chefs with their own table of ten guests. Each cluster has its own theme and menu, culminating in a VIP dessert buffet and live auction. This year’s event will once again be held at Morgan Manufacturing. Proceeds support Meal on Wheels Chicago, bringing food to homebound seniors and those with disabilities.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.