Masaharu Morimoto's goal of making people happy through food extends far beyond the dining rooms of his namesake restaurants. The chef is also devoted to a number of nonprofit organizations that endeavor to end hunger, especially the Food Bank for New York City, his choice of beneficiary for this year's Culinary Masters Competition.
Although New York is the capital of fine dining in the United States, the city is also home to 1.4 million people who rely on soup kitchens and food pantries to provide sustenance for themselves and their families. The Food Bank for New York City, which was founded 30 years ago by the activist Kathy Goldman, is one of the largest food banks in the country, with a current annual operating budget of about $80 million. Its pantry is filled with donations of food from government agencies, grocers, wholesalers, and others, as well as with purchases funded by corporations and individuals. Operating primarily from a 90,000-square-foot warehouse in the Bronx, the Food Bank–with the assistance of five staff nutritionists–collects, stores, and distributes more than 60 million pounds of food every year, including fresh produce.
"It's a huge space," says Morimoto, who has worked in the warehouse and provided guidance on storing and preparing food professionally. "I do demonstrations so people can learn how to organize the fridge, cut vegetables efficiently, clean fish, and make rolled sushi."
Morimoto has also served on the organization's culinary council since its inception in 2010. The council, chaired by chef Mario Batali, comprises dozens of the city's culinary elite, including master chefs Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In this role, Morimoto has helped raise money for the organization by cooking at culinary events, donating gift certificates, and distributing food on Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
The Food Bank's provisions are distributed throughout the five boroughs and help deliver a staggering 400,000 meals a day. In addition to furnishing daily sustenance to clients, the group works to empower those it serves through nutrition-education programs and financial-support services that assist in obtaining benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and filing tax returns. –Sonoko Sakai