Chefs Colin Lynch, Andy Husbands and Chris Coombs at Taste of the Nation 2017

Chefs Colin Lynch, Andy Husbands and Chris Coombs at Taste of the Nation 2017

Some 60 restaurants will be doling out food and drink samples in Boston on June 5, as an estimated 1,500 guests flock to Cruiseport Boston for a night of tastings, live music and a silent auction. The annual Taste of the Nation event–featuring a chef council of Tony Maws, Joanne Chang, Jody Adams and Andy Husbands, and emceed by Food Network and HGTV designer Taniya Nayak–benefits No Kid Hungry, a national Share Our Strength campaign to end childhood hunger, and a charity known to be a favorite among chefs and restaurant professionals. Restaurant Insider caught up with Share Our Strength director of development Emily Ryan about the benefits–charitable and otherwise–that restaurants experience by participating, and how the organization is looking to end childhood hunger for good.

What programs are made possible because of events like Taste of the Nation?

We are a national organization working to end hunger. A lot of what we do is connected with school meals. Federal nutrition programs are in place, but a lot of times, there are obstacles to getting kids the meals that they need, especially for breakfast. For example, here in Massachusetts, there are 300,000 kids that qualify for free or reduced price lunch, but only half of them are getting breakfast. So we’re working with local partners and national partners to break down the barriers to getting kids these meals. I was just in a school on Friday morning in Charlestown where we had funded a breakfast cart, a mobile breakfast cart to help middle schoolers grab breakfast on their way to school. It’s that kind of little nudge or investment in the school to help them become more efficient in serving their meals.

Taste of the Nation
Taste of the Nation

Why is breakfast so important?

We hear a lot that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I think in particular for growing kids, it’s really crucial. If I’m hungry, I can’t concentrate, I can’t do anything. I’m thinking about where my next meal is. So how can we expect kids to learn and reach their full potential if they’re hungry? It’s just really as simple as that. We talk to teachers a lot. We put out an annual teachers report where we find that when kids are getting breakfast, they’re scoring higher on math scores, they’re staying in school a day-and-a-half longer, teachers are reporting fewer behavioral issues, they’re going to the nurse’s office less. It sort of hits on a lot of buckets. Feeding kids isn’t the only answer, but it’s a crucial one.

Why does No Kid Hungry strike a chord with so many chefs in particular?

They feed people for a living, so for a chef, there’s a really clear connection to feeding everyone. When we tell them about the problem, when we tell them what we do, they just ask what more they can do. I think the connection to feeding people, especially people who maybe aren’t dining in their restaurants, makes them feel really good. It’s a way for them to share their strengths to end childhood hunger.

Aside from the obvious charitable benefits, what are some other advantages to chefs participating in tasting events like this?

One thing I talk a lot about with my staff and chefs is completing the circle. This only works, and we can only continue to get the amazing chefs we get here, if we encourage them to complete the circle. We hope attendees are dining in their restaurants. We hope that sponsors are taking big groups to their restaurants, as well. So I think chefs do see a return on investment, if you will–of course, helping to alleviate the issue of childhood hunger, but also getting their brand out there, getting their particular food out there. We see a lot of chefs come to us, and ask to work with us. I think that’s word of mouth. I think there’s also a community aspect to this where they want to be seen next to certain chefs, which helps elevate their brand, elevate awareness of their restaurant or their opening or something like that. So that’s our goal. … We’ve heard from a lot of people, “Oh, I tried that dish at Taste, let me make sure I remember the restaurant and try it for the next week.”

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Chef Will Gilson at Taste of the Nation
Chef Will Gilson at Taste of the Nation

We also make sure that we’re always thanking our chefs on social media. … We make sure that they’re recognized for all that they do. I think more than any other community, chefs are asked constantly to donate their time and food and talent. We need to make sure we commend the chefs that are doing that and dine at their restaurants. So I’m always telling people that I pretty much only spend my money in restaurants when they’re supporting our events.

How do you see No Kids Hungry growing?

We really want to end childhood hunger. It’s a stoppable issue. We can do this, and we are doing it. We have a proven track record over the last eight years. So, by 2030, we want to end childhood hunger. That’s is the ultimate goal of the campaign, and from there we’ll move on to the next issue. But that is, no question, the goal. We’re looking to double our capacity in the next five years to do that. I think Share Our Strength has always been kind of on the cutting edge of culinary events, and I think we’re looking for what the next thing is. We do a great ride called Chef Cycle…riding 300 miles over three days, which is crazy. But I think it’s been a really cool thing to see chefs doing something that’s not just cooking. So I think more things like that, where we’re sort of getting inventive with the incredible chef champions that we have all across the country.

Interested in getting your restaurant and staff involved in No Kid Hungry? Learn more here.

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Meghan is an award-winning journalist and content marketing manager who lives to tell stories. Her favorites include highlighting all things restaurants, from front-of-house hospitality to back-of-house grit. When she's not writing about them, you can find her eating her way through Providence and Boston searching for inspiration with a rye Old Fashioned in hand.