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.