Meet the Food & Wine Classic Regulars Cooking and Somm-ing for a Cause
After the three marathon days of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen are but a memory, there are other ways to support some of your favorite culinary luminaries beyond tuning into Chopped. In addition to promoting charitable causes through donations or special events, a new generation of food and beverage professionals are making a more profound commitment to giving back, starting their own nonprofits or taking on key roles in philanthropic and educational organizations that are close to their hearts.
Take three of our favorite Classic presenters—Hugh Acheson, Jordan Salcito, and Marcus Samuelsson. All are involved in deeply personal ventures that use food or wine to help empower others.
Hugh Acheson may be best known to the public for his quippy stints as a guest judge on Top Chef, but the James Beard Award–winning chef and author has also achieved national acclaim for his “new Southern” cuisine and food education advocacy. The father of two was motivated to launch Seed Life Skills in 2015, after his seventh-grade daughter was taught how to make bacon-wrapped chocolate croissants at school.
Troubled that schoolkids aren’t being taught actual cooking or other life skills (“If we can update our iPhone 10 times in a year, maybe we should be updating what we teach our kids more than every 50 years or so,” he says), Acheson partnered with the Athens, Georgia, public school system to develop an experiential curriculum that covers cooking (including food waste management and composting) as well as other real-life know-how, like creating a budget and interpreting leases or contracts. “The real secret to fixing the malaise of juvenile obesity and the diabetes epidemic is to convince all Americans that cooking from scratch is more economical, healthier, nurturing, and downright cool,” says Acheson.
Adds Seed Life Skills Program Director Almeta Tulloss, “We’re refocusing the lens on traditional home- and food-related activities that are not just valuable, but essential. It’s important to get kids thinking about this now.”
Empowerment was also a motivator for sommelier Jordan Salcito, beverage director of Momofuku restaurants, when she started her eco-friendly companies, Bellus Wines, which produces organic, terroir-driven wines, and Ramona wine coolers. “I knew from the beginning I wanted Bellus to be able to give back to the community in some way,” she says. Partial proceeds from every bottle of wine sold go to a different cause, including Earthjustice, an environmental law group that offers free legal aid to clients; the Tory Burch Foundation; and NomoGaia, a Denver-based nonprofit run by Salcito’s sister that urges multinational corporations to respect human rights.
Salcito also credits clothing designer Burch for motivation. “I’d been inspired by her foundation, which empowers women entrepreneurs through mentorship and microfinance.”
Mentorship also inspires noted chef, restaurateur, and author Marcus Samuelsson. Born in Ethiopia and adopted by a Swedish couple, he grew up fishing, canning, and cooking. Now, while overseeing multiple restaurants in the United States, Scandinavia, and Bermuda, Samuelsson devotes significant time to philanthropic pursuits.
He and his wife, Maya Gate Haile, who is also Ethiopian, founded the nonprofit Three Goats, to improve the well-being of children, young women, and families in their native country. More recently, Samuelsson became co-chairman of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which is headquartered in Harlem. Since 1990, the national nonprofit has provided food service job training, culinary competitions, scholarships, internships, and mentors to more than 17,000 underserved high school students each year.
“When I think about the relationship of mentor and mentee, C-CAP is the best organization for fostering and showcasing that,” says Samuelsson, who has worked with the program for more than 15 years. “When I became a chef, I decided to be involved with an organization that gives young people not only the skills but also a chance, whether it’s to travel or go to college. They can also come back and teach the next generation of students; we now have Master Sommeliers, restaurant owners, executive chefs, hotel managers, and more. We’re literally staring at success and the next diverse group of hospitalians.”
Proof that food industry-driven philanthropy can be much more than just a side dish.
Grow for Good: One Delicious Decade
Food & Wine’s national campaign, Grow for Good, turns 10 this year. Launched to raise awareness and funds for increasing consumer access to local, sustainably grown foods, the program has proved wildly successful, attracting the support of acclaimed chefs like Tom Colicchio and José Andrés.
Grow for Good’s main partner and beneficiary is Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit (founded by three-time James Beard Award–winning chef Michel Nischan) that helps underserved communities gain access to healthy, affordable foods and provides capital for regional farmers. Every consumer pass sold to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen benefits Wholesome Wave; in addition, special Grow for Good Passes allocate $1,000 from each sale directly to the organization.
The Classic’s annual Friday morning 5K—hosted this year by George Mendes, Stephanie Izard, and Richard Blais—has the dual purpose of fundraising for Grow for Good (entry is $35) and helping you get a jump on hangover mitigation. Register: foodandwine.com/classic