Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why RJ Melman, N9Ne Steakhouse, and Chefs Brian Runge, Joseph Heppe Share Their Strength

We asked some of our participants to tell us why they share their strength. Here are some highlights:

Having a five month old boy and seeing all the care we give him, it's hard for me to think of any child going without the basic need for food. Hunger should be a pain never felt by any child. Support this cause because it's a great one. 
Chef Brian Runge, Premise

I cook everyday for a purpose. To share my passion for food with new guests and the regulars that recently have come visit me night after night at Untitled. But it's not often I cook for a cause such as that of Share Your Strength and am honored to even have a small role in helping feed the hundreds and thousands of children that are left hungry everyday. Participating at these events put things in perspctive. The restaurant bubble that we work in at times can skew what is, and isn't important. A plate breaking... not important, a child skipping a meal... very important. I am honored and humbled to be part of this year's Share Your Strength! 
Chef Joseph Heppe, Untitled
N9NE Steakhouse looks forward to supporting Share our Strength’s Taste of the Nation every year. It is the least we can do to combat childhood hunger in Chicago and in America. With 1 in 5 children at risk of hunger in America, it’s our duty to help. No child should ever be left hungry.
N9NE Steakhouse 

And a word from our event chair, RJ Melman:

As event chair for the last three years, RJ Melman is proud to have all of his restaurants involved in this great event. Childhood hunger is a serious issue in Chicago and across our country, and one that we all feel very passionate about. At HUB 51, we are honored to once again be a part of Taste of the Nation which celebrates what we love most—food—while at the same time raising money for a very deserving cause.
RJ Melman, Lettuce Entertain You 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

CONTEST TIME! Track the Truck Upgrade!

Time's ticking until we join in a delicious evening to help end childhood hunger. It's already one of the city's top events of the year, but we want to make your experience better. How? An upgrade. You know, taking what you already have and making it more fantastic. How does this relate to Taste of the Nation 2012? It's simple. We're taking to the streets!

We're joining forces with two great food trucks, Brand BBQ (@BrandBBQTruck) and The Southern Mac and Cheese Truck (@TheSouthernMac) to give you a chance to upgrade your ticket. We're riding with The Southern Mac Friday and Tuesday afternoon and with Brand BBQ Saturday afternoon.

Here's how it works:

1. TRACK THE TRUCK! Find out where we're going to be so you can meet us.

HINT: A little birdie told us you might be able to find The Southern Mac at 600 W Chicago Friday around 1130a and in Hyde Park near U of C around 1130a (these locations and times may vary, Track the Truck to be sure)

Brand BBQ at Heritage Bicycle (2959 N Lincoln Ave) Saturday from noon to 2p and Koval Distillery (5121 N Ravenswood) from 230 - 5p

2. Sign up for your chance to win an upgrade. We'll have a sheet where you can give us your information.
• General Admission tickets are eligible for Advocate-level upgrades; Advocate tickets are eligible for a Benefactor upgrade
• There will be ONE General Admission to Advocate upgrade per eligible 10 entries.
• There will be ONE Advocate to Benefactor upgrade for the whole contest, Friday to Tuesday.
• Already a Benefactor? We give you an extra shot at the SUPER Package. 
• To be fair, you're only eligible for one entry per session, for a maximum of four potential entries (possibly less depending on road and truck conditions... Track the trucks to know for sure!)
3. Buy your Taste of the Nation Chicago 2012 ticket if you haven't already. Just go to to do it. You have until 5p CDT Tuesday to be eligible for the upgrade. Gotta be in it to win it!

4. Wait for our announcement if you've won an upgrade by 11a Wednesday.

Want to hedge your bets? You can still enter our Tweet to Taste giveaway for your chance at one of five pairs of General Admission tickets. Just tweet us, take a pic of something at a participating restaurant (or food truck, ahem, *wink*) and use the hashtag #NKHChi by 1159p Tuesday.

Who's going to win an upgrade? Pay attention to @TasteNationChi and our Facebook page for the details!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why I Share MY Strength

Why do you share YOUR strength?

A Cooking Matters class learning how to menu plan for their families

Hi. My name is Jeanelle and I've been volunteering with Taste of the Nation Chicago for three years now. This is my story of why I Share MY Strength.

My first love has always been food. Ever since I can remember. While it was standard for 80's babies to watch Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, I'd also be rapt by Justin Wilson makin it a lil mo heapin, Jeff Smith and his frugalities, and Martin Yan and his crazy rapid knife and stir-fry skills. With my mother's watchful guidance, I began cooking around 7 years old. As I grew up, I'd spend summers with my grandmother in Alabama. She's lucky enough to share a garden with her neighbors that's several acres in size, so there's always a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and even pecans straight from the tree in her backyard. But one incident sticks out to me to this day. When I was maybe 9 or 10 or so, we woke up early around 6a, and the first thing she asks me was "What kind of meat do you want for dinner?" With this influence, it's no wonder I've always had a love affair with food.

While my family's been fortunate enough to ensure I've never had to do without a meal, sadly there are millions of others across the country who can't say the same. The reality is that right here in Chicago where I was born, raised, and currently live, work, and play, one in four children are food insecure, which means they just don't know where their next meal is going to come from. Further, over 200,000 children in this city live in food deserts, or places where access to fresh produce (like the food my grandmother grows in her garden) is limited to non-existent. And childhood obesity is still an epidemic. At first these statistics broke my heart, but then I got fired up enough to do something to change them.

That's why I love the work that Cooking Matters is doing and that's why I had to get involved. The classes are in a six-week format and they combine teaching healthy eating habits along with the skills of how to cook the meals and shop for the menu items on a budget. Overall, with a chef instructor and nutritionist leading the way, children, families and adults learn how to integrate food in their lives in a more positive way.

I just wrapped up my fourth week of my first class and I reflected on how rewarding it's been to work with the families. From teaching children knife skills to telling their moms how they can substitute different ingredients and still maintain the integrity of a dish to letting families know that just because food's on their plate it doesn't mean they have to be solely responsible for eating it all right then and there, it's been great to share lessons I've learned in my life, culinary school, and my culinary career.

It's also been a great experience to be able to see the participants' attitudes change throughout the course when it comes to what they eat and have learned how to cook themselves. From activities like Blubber Burger that shows just how much fat your favorite fast food meal might contain (lesson: beware buffalo wings) to learning about the varieties of whole grains and how they can be prepared to menu planning for the family, it's great to see how they take to heart the key lessons from each week. Also, it's just fun to cook with the families, and sharing cooking tips I've learned along the way. I especially love to see the reaction to ingredients and recipes they're a little uncertain of at first glance then the look and sounds of enjoyment as we eat their creations at the end of each class, and you'd be surprised, oftentimes it's the children who are more immediately receptive to new ingredients! Those families are why I share my strength.

Sign up to help!

If you have a passion for helping people enjoy food in a more healthy and positive way, you should definitely sign up to volunteer with Cooking Matters, be it as a chef or nutrition instructor, class assistant or even grocery shopper.

Other Ways You Can Help:

• Buy tickets to Taste of the Nation Chicago 2012. August 8, 2012 All the proceeds go to Cooking Matters, Illinois Hunger Coalition and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

• Participate in the Great American Bake Sale. On May 7, 2011, some friends put one together at The Butcher and Larder and we raised nearly $10,000 to end childhood hunger. I even baked a couple of coconut cakes for the cause.

• Take the No Kid Hungry Pledge. On the slowest computers, it only takes a minute. If you haven't already, do it now.

• Participate in the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry from September 16 - 22, 2012.

Friday, July 27, 2012


At Taste of the Nation Chicago we love all things food. We also appreciate a good artistic eye. That’s why we’re running a new contest that combines both – deliciously decadent fare captured using your favorite vintage photo filter. That’s right – we WANT you to take pictures of your food.

Starting TODAY, Friday, July 27, through Tuesday, August 7 visit any participating Taste of the Nation Chicago restaurant (peep the list here) and snap a pic that includes the name of the establishment, or the chef, and tweet it to us at @TasteNationChi using the hashtag #NKHchi.  We’ll select the 5 most deliciously inspired images and those lucky people will receive a FREE pair of tickets to the event on August 8th. All winners will be notified on the morning of August 8th.

Here’s a sample from Taste of the Nation Chicago communications chair Johnny Auer:

Mmm...donuts from Julius Meinl

So put all those Instagram likes to good use and help us spread the word about ending childhood hunger. You might just win yourself a spot to the hottest party in town, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rock Out For Childhood Hunger

You (and any other interested party) can bid on a 3-day pass to the hottest music festival in town. And all the proceeds will go straight to Taste of the Nation Chicago, benefiting great organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Cooking Matters and the Illinois Hunger Coalition. Starting bid's a great deal at $200, and the auction only lasts til Friday night at 5p. You have a little more than two days. Ready. Set. BID!

Be a Benefactor

You might have noticed we've got some new ticket pricing levels this year. The most exclusive of the bunch is the Benefactor. In our intimate Benefactor Lounge, we invite you to experience one-of-a-kind tastings of vintage scotch courtesy of Macallan Scotch; spa treatments by Element Wellness; and a coveted preview tasting from the much-anticipated City Winery.

If that's not enough to entice you, we've got something pretty, well, SUPER. Entrance to the Benefactor Lounge also includes the chance to win the aptly named "Super Package." What makes it so super?

• Dinners for two at acclaimed Lettuce Entertain You restaurants Tru, L2O and Everest - with wine pairings.

• A full year of concierge services, including coordination of the aforementioned dinner reservations, provided by Toque & Bottle Advisory.

• City Winery invites you and nine of your favorite oenophiles for a wine tasting/pairing experience you won't forget.

• Flight Deck Chicago will take you on a three-restaurant food "flight" for four people.

As if you needed any more reason to support Taste of the Nation Chicago, now you've got a super one. Tickets are limited to 100 guests and will NOT be sold at the door. Don't miss out. Buy yours today.


Time flies. Especially summertime. We can hardly believe it ourselves, but our very own Taste of the Nation Chicago 2012 is but a mere two weeks away, and we're just bubbling with excitement over all the great things that will undoubtedly make this year's event the best one yet.

This year's restaurant lineup is pretty top-notch. A lot of the our perennial favorites are back (you know, Frontera Grill, mk The Restaurant, Hot Chocolate and the like). Some new places are also in the mix. Spots like Nellcôte, RPM Italian, Premise, Tavernita, Trenchermen, and Red Door to name a few. As if it's not enough to give you a taste of these hot spots diners all over the city are clamoring for reservations to, we've got access to places so exclusive they're not even open yet. You might've heard of a lil place called bellyQ, a Bill Kim project. Or maybe Carriage House, Mark Steuer's take on low-country cuisine. Oenophiles will love City Winery (only available to Benefactors). Want to see the complete list of restaurants? Go to our main event page at to see them all and to buy tickets to what's guaranteed to be the hottest event of the year!

P.S. - There are going to be some pretty fun giveaways happening through our social media. Following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook might be pretty prudent if you don't already...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Taste of the Nation Kickoff Party at Studio Paris

Consider it the first choice morsel before feasting on the full entrée. Taste of the Nation Chicago is throwing a kickoff party next Wednesday, June 27 and you’re invited. Yes, you.

Studio Paris 
Mix and mingle with fellow No Kid Hungry supporters on the stunning Studio Paris rooftop, just above the Paris ClubThere will be a bevy of signature Paris Club dishes to taste, as well as fancy cocktails to drink. Chicago’s own DJ Kwest_on will provide the ambience, spinning grooves under the setting sun. And if it rains, never fear – Studio Paris features a retractable roof

So what else is in it for you, besides a great night out? Well a lucky few will receive door prizes upon entry, including the chance to win FREE Advocate tickets to the Taste of the Nation Chicago gala event on August 8
th. Advocate tickets include early entrance to the party and VIP lounge access, among other things. And if you’ve already purchased an Advocate ticket you can win a FREE upgrade to our Benefactor ticket level, earning yourself complimentary valet parking on August 8th, access to the VIP lounges and reserved seating in the Lakeside Luxe Lounge. Voila! 

More important than enjoying the view on Wednesday night is that you’ll also have the chance to be part of a truly memorable campaign towards combating childhood hunger. Perhaps you’ve already seen the photos of well-known Chicago chefs
posing with their No Kid Hungry pledges, and now you have the opportunity to join them. Take the pledge while you’re there, and we’ll take your picture. Every new signature gets us just a little bit closer to reaching our goal of ending childhood hunger in this country by 2015.

Purchase your ticket to the event here.  
We hope to see you at Studio Paris on Wednesday, mes amies!

Event Details:

Taste of the Nation – Chicago Pre-Event Kickoff Party June 27 at Studio Paris, 6:00 pm-8:00 pm
Ticket price is $25.00 with all proceeds going towards Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Chicago

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mindy Segal in the Month of May

May has brought more than flowers and sunny days to the Taste of the Nation crew. Tickets for the August 8th Taste of the Nation Chicago are selling like crazy, and the various ticket packages feature a slew of new and unique experiences. We've secured 25 mixologists to sling back cocktails all night, and will have 50 elite chefs on hand to prepare their signature dishes.

But perhaps the biggest excitement this month was the news that Mindy Segal - TOTN Culinary Council Member and Hot Chocolate chef extraordinaire - was named outstanding pastry chef at the James Beard Awards in New York.

Chef Mindy Segal
We've sung Segal's praises before, for her prowess in the kitchen and her commitment to Share Our Strength, but seeing her win the award after being nominated six times is quite thrilling. Her accomplishment is the perfect opportunity to spotlight just one of the incredibly talented individuals whose efforts support Share Our Strength's mission to end childhood hunger by 2015.

After finishing her studies at Kendall College, Segal earned cred on the Chicago culinary scene by cutting her teeth at notable restaurants like Ambria, Spago, Charlie Trotter's and mk. She gained a reputation for creating dishes that put an innovative spin on American-style classics like the cult favorite "Cake-n-Shake." But there were bigger things to come. In 2005, Segal opened the doors to her very own restaurant, Hot Chocolate, in Bucktown. The menu features everything from savory snacks to full entrees and of course highlights her specialty - dessert. Hot Chocolate reflects Segal's trademark creativity (check out the ice cream list) and her commitment to sourcing the finest in-season and locally produced ingredients available. This month, you can find spring rhubarb popping up in house-made jam, risotto pudding and a country buttermilk cupcake. Hungry yet?

We are proud to have Mindy Segal on board with Share Our Strength, and beyond excited to feature her creations at the Taste of the Nation event this August. Her involvement signifies what our event is all about - bringing together great chefs to do great things. Congratulations, Mindy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Get Local and Get Giving, All Year Long

While we're all looking forward to chowing down for charity at the Taste of the Nation event this August, there's plenty you can do to help combat childhood hunger in Chicago year round. We're still learning more about what's out there, but here are two local non-profits that are providing some pretty amazing food services to their communities.

Eden Place Nature Center

Photo by Katherine Millett for Chicago Wilderness Magazine

Some argue that food tastes better when you work for it, and Eden Place Nature Center aims to prove that theory. Located in Chicago's Fuller Park neighborhood, the center is a lush nature preserve nestled amongst gritty concrete and freight train tracks. Through partnerships with local schools, Eden Place offers Fuller Park children the chance to experience nature firsthand, teaching them to compost dirt, tend to farm animals, and sow sees for planting. The organization has exposed over 20,000 children to urban agriculture and the importance of getting nutritious food to eat. The children's farming efforts haven't gone to waste, either - Eden Place sells homegrown produce and eggs at a Saturday Farmer's Market throughout the year.

How to get involved: Volunteer to work with Eden Place's plants and animals, or help out with one of their events. You can also donate to Eden Place directly, helping to sponsor projects such as a permanent building for student groups and the ongoing MonarchLive project.

First Slice

First Slice Pie Cafe

While Eden Place promotes a back to nature approach, First Slice shows that nutritious can also mean delicious. The Ravenswood not-for-profit was founded by Chicago chef Mary Ellen Diaz and its mission is to provide high quality meals to families in need. To do that, Diaz enlists the help of a robust Chicago population: resident foodies. Buy some pie at the pie cafe, hire First Slice's community supported kitchen to cater your next event, or subscribe to receive three chef-prepared meals a week - each tasty option fuels First Slice's community outreach efforts. The organization provides meals to the Howard Area Alternative High School, Broadway Youth Center, The Center on Halsted and more. Each meal prepared by First Slice comes with fresh vegetables, fruit, and organic meat. And their pies - which I can attest to from recent firsthand experience - are a true slice of heaven, with options ranging from traditional apple to the more adventurous tabasco cream.

How to get involved: If you'd like to go further than just buying their food, First Slice also offers ample opportunities to volunteer. Contact them directly for information on serving local meals or helping to prepare food for the kitchen and the Soul Food Pantry Bus. They also accept donations.

Monday, April 30, 2012

No Kid Hungry Chicago Chef Campaign

Stephanie in the alley behind Girl & the Goat.

Several weeks ago members of the state legislature gathered at a Chicago elementary school with local media, joined by representatives of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, students, parents, and staff from Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation Chicago. The gathering marked the launch of No Kid Hungry Illinois, a statewide collaborative effort supported by government, schools, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and anchored by Share Our Strength. No Kid Hungry, a national program developed to help eliminate childhood hunger by 2015 on a state-by-state level, has the potential to do a heck of a lot of good for hungry children in Illinois—and we're taking this very seriously at Taste of the Nation.

You've seen us post a lot to twitter and Facebook about the "No Kid Hungry Pledge," but maybe you haven't quite understood exactly what that means. It's pretty simple: if you think no child should ever skip a meal or go hungry, you're going to want to take this pledge. Here's what you agree to:
I believe that no child in America should go hungry. By pledging today, I add my voice to the national movement of people committed to ending childhood hunger in America by 2015.
And here's more about No Kid Hungry:

Yes. That's Jeff Bridges, The Dude, working as a spokesperson for this very cause. Pretty effective, right? And that's the very reason we've teamed up with Galdones Photography for our own No Kid Hungry campaign.

Over the next couple of weeks we'll be visiting Chicago kitchens to photograph chefs who have been advocates and supporters for Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation Chicago. We started with chefs Jared Van Camp (Nellcôte, Old Town Social) and Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), shooting the two of them in the alley behind Stephanie's restaurant. And just like Jeff Bridges, they're encouraging you to take the pledge.

Blake films as Huge shoots Jared.

You'll see these photographs on display at Taste of the Nation this August, and we're internally discussing other means in which they might be used to help drive awareness for this cause. But one of the biggest ways you can help? Take the pledge and share it with friends. So far over 150,000 people have taken the pledge—a great number, but we should be able to get that many people on board just in Chicago alone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Taste of the Nation Kicks Off With Food Network Documentary "Hunger Hits Home"

The Taste of the Nation Chicago team is back, and more ready than ever to take on Share Our Strength’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. A big part of that – in addition to planning our annual gala benefit – is working to educate the public on the realities of childhood hunger here in the United States.
Our message got across in a major way last week when The Food Network aired a documentary co-produced with Share Our Strength called "Hunger Hits Home." Narrated by Hollywood actor Jeff Bridges, the film profiles three American families who have unexpectedly found themselves struggling to put food on the table.
Their stories are startling. "I've gone about three days without eating," says one bespectacled boy from Norfolk, Virginia. "I've been able to do that," he says, adding, "sometimes." The children featured here all come from hard-working, loving homes and the desperation their parents feel at not being able to provide for them is palpable.
Sadly, they’re not alone. Childhood hunger affects as many as 16 million children in this country – that’s 1 in 5 kids you see on the street. It's become such a growing problem that current Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack has labeled it an issue of national security.
What’s encouraging is seeing how both private citizens and politicians have become energized around this issue. On the local level, food pantries like Minnie’s in Plano, Texas, help make the choice between cooking dinner and going without a little easier for families in the community. Share Our Strength has also successfully partnered with governors in Maryland and Virginia to help make ending hunger a priority in their states.
The message here is simple. Whether it’s donating to your local food pantry, writing your state legislator, or simply taking the pledge to end childhood hunger, this is a goal we can all get behind.

We hope to do our part here in Chicago. Join us, and buy your ticket to the 2012 Taste of the Nation event today.