Culinary Masters 2016: Charities

<< Back to Robb Report, Robb Report January 2016

From Control to Cure 

Last year, nearly 600,000 people across the United States died from some form of cancer—a number that represents almost one out of every four deaths in the country. This year, more than 1.6 million Americans will learn that they have 

the disease. 

The figures alone are enough to incite action. For Curtis Duffy, however, the cause is personal. “I have a few friends with cancer, and my ex-wife has cancer,” he says. “It’s an ongoing battle that the entire world has to face every single day.”

For that reason, Duffy chose the American Cancer Society—both the leading organization dedicated to eliminating cancer and the oldest—as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. Established in New York City in 1913 by a group of physicians, the organization—then called the American Society for the Control of Cancer—spawned an unprecedented movement, drawing attention to and demanding research into a disease that was at the time enshrouded in fear and denial. Today, the American Cancer Society operates more than 350 offices throughout the U.S. It has invested $4.3 billion in research since 1946, more than any other private nonprofit group in the country. 

But the fight against cancer is far from over. And to Duffy, every penny that can be devoted to the cause is well spent. “The more money we can give toward coming up with a cure, the better,” he says. —Jackie Caradonio

​A Community of Cooks

Rebuilding and preserving New Orleans’s culinary heritage has been a mission for John Besh since the early days after Hurricane Katrina, and he is quick to note the recovery’s successes. “We have nearly 50 percent more restaurants than we had prior to Hurricane Katrina, if you can believe that, with a smaller population,” he says. “Truly, our hospitality industry is more responsible for bringing New Orleans back than just about anything.” 

Yet Besh also sees that many of those in the inner city are not making the same strong comeback. He and a friend, the food blogger Jessica Bride, spent several years studying the problem, and in 2011 he established the John Besh Foundation, which he chose as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. The nonprofit group mentors young culinary talent in New Orleans and provides microloans to farmers and artisanal food producers within 200 miles of the city. 

Its scholarship program, cofounded with Bride, is called Chefs Move! It is open to minority applicants from New Orleans and provides full tuition to the International Culinary Center in New York City, including supplies and housing, as well as a paid internship in a top New York kitchen, such as Gramercy Tavern. Afterward, the students are required to return to New Orleans, where they work for Besh for six months and then move on to another elite kitchen in the city for at least two years. “I set them up with somebody who can be a mentor to them,” Besh says. “Susan Spicer and Emeril Lagasse and the Brennans have stepped up. And I would like to call upon Justin too, to see if he will take in one of our returning students. If we’re going to truly sustain this beautiful culture, people of every race, color, and creed have to participate in it.” —Michalene Busico

There Is a Better World Out There 

Since 2012, Barbara lynch has worked to help inner-city children get “up and out,” as she puts it. “Growing up in a housing project, I know what it is like not to have a proper education, not to be shown the world, and not to have hope,” says Lynch, who chose her nonprofit organization, the Barbara Lynch Foundation, as a beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. The group facilitates programs that aim to help children live healthier and take charge of their futures. 

From 2013 to 2015, the foundation supported two programs in Boston Public Schools, including an elementary school curriculum that teaches students about food, healthy eating, and nutrition through the Boston Food Literacy Initiative. Students also learn how food is produced, even growing their own vegetables in a greenhouse at a K-6 school in Boston’s South End. The curriculum is run by teachers, who invite frequent guests, which included Lynch. From a pilot in a single school, the Food Literacy Initiative expanded to four inner-city elementary schools last year. “We showed them how to grow food and to see that tomatoes don’t come from a ketchup jar,” Lynch says. “We also took them on farm trips, because these kids had never seen a live cow. I know I hadn’t when I was a kid.”

Lynch also felt that it was important to teach business skills to older students. As a result, the foundation partnered with the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to train teachers to offer entrepreneurship programs in several Boston high schools. Lynch also spoke to those classes, offering her own example. The entrepreneurship program, which began as a two-classroom pilot, now encompasses 14 classrooms and reaches an additional 250 students. 

The next project for the foundation will be identifying a major, multiyear initiative, which will be announced later this year. In the interim, it will continue to support local education projects. “I learned that there is a better world out there beyond the housing projects, and I want those kids to know that,” Lynch says. “I’m a city kid, and it’s my time to give back.” —David Lyon

Napa Untilled 

“I’ve lived in the valley eight years,” Christopher Kostow says, “and all the discussion that happens in the valley is about development—who’s converting what into what. There’s no conversation about open space.”

The Land Trust of Napa County—the organization Kostow chose as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition—puts that conversation front and center. The group was formed in 1976 as a community nonprofit with the goal of preserving the natural character of Napa County. Since then, it has protected more than 55,000 acres, which is about 10 percent of the entire county. “In large part, the reason Napa looks the way it does now is the work of conservation organizations,” says Kimberly Barrett, the trust’s development manager. “If we were wall-to-wall wineries and Silicon Valley–ish, no one would want to visit here.” 

The group has been responsible for nearly 200 land-protection projects, including donations and purchases of property, agreements with local, state, and federal agencies, and easements allowing land to remain in private hands but with stipulations that it will be preserved as is. The easements involve a who’s who of wineries, 

such as Cakebread Cellars, Heitz Wine Cellars, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The Land Trust also operates nine permanent preserves open to the public through free hiking programs. “Once things are developed they don’t get undeveloped,” Kostow says. “As citizens of the modern world, all we want is space. And I don’t even live in the city.” —Michael Bauer

The ABCs of Eating Well

Michael White has built an empire on an exultant style of Italian cooking, but he knows that cooking is a basic skill that many young people have not mastered. To that end, he has long supported the Sylvia Center, a nonprofit organization in New York City that teaches children and their families how to prepare healthy, affordable meals. 

The classes, which are largely taught in public-housing community centers, are divided into courses for “young chefs” (7 to 12 years old), teens, and families. Each session lasts six to 12 weeks and covers “all they need to know to cook on a budget,” says director Anna Hammond. The fall, winter, and summer programs include just 10 students per class, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 4 to 1. Students also spend time at Katchkie Farm, an organic farm in upstate New York, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting, and then cooking what they have grown.

Since the center was founded in 2007, almost 15,000 students have taken the courses—and now some of them are passing along the knowledge. The Sylvia Center’s new culinary apprenticeship program offers teens a 60-hour after-school course for school credit that allows them to teach the class in summer camps. “This year, 25 graduates taught 800 students,” Hammond says. “Next year’s class will be 50 students. Having almost-peers teach young kids how to cook healthy food is one of our biggest successes.”

In addition to naming the Sylvia Center as his Culinary Masters beneficiary, White has helped raise funds for the center’s $1.2 million annual budget and offers advice on recipes, jobs in the food industry, and curricula. Next year, he will also become a guest speaker in classrooms. “It builds on what he does with his own staff,” Hammond says. “He is dedicated to lasting change.”  —Michalene Busico

Local Heroes

As his many social-media followers know, Norman Van Aken is a proud grandfather, and he was thinking about his granddaughter when he considered his beneficiary for the Culinary Masters Competition. “I wanted to find a group that was local and working with children,” he says. “A group that didn’t have anybody who was really being an angel to them.” 

He decided on the CJ Foundation for Children in Need, a 9-year-old nonprofit based in Boynton Beach, Fla., that supports children and families, particularly those affected by autism or cancer. The foundation’s efforts include the CJ Miracle Project, which provides a “respite” recreational program each month for school-age children with autism, allowing parents a break from caregiving. “The kids basically play,” says Gail Casale, a fund-raiser with the foundation. “We have all sorts of games and puzzles that the therapists work with them on, and they can do the games with their siblings too, to help them socialize and interact.”

The foundation also offers annual grants for children with autism whose families would not otherwise be able to pay for therapy, which can cost up to $50,000 a year. “Most people don’t know how expensive it is,” Casale says, “and that insurance doesn’t cover it, or limits the coverage.” In 2013, the foundation opened the 6,000-book Village Library in Toussaint L’Ouverture High School in southwest Delray Beach, a community that had not had a library before. And each year, its Adopt-a-Wish program funds up to three wishes in partnership with the Make-a-Wish Foundation of South Florida. The foundation’s work is handled by nearly 100 volunteers and eight board members and supported by fund-raising and donations.—Michalene Busico