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Chefs collaborate to give kids healthy meals through Second Harvest Food Bank

Excerpt from Santa Cruz Sentinel 
by Tara Fatemi Walker 

SANTA CRUZ — Would you like to savor the creative talents of renowned local chefs, and simultaneously provide nutritious meals to Santa Cruz County children? The annual Chefs’ Dinner, Oct. 25 at Holy Cross Hall, raises money for The Food Bank’s award-winning Food for Children initiative. A tasting menu features local wine paired with small courses from six chefs who donate their time and talent.

“I am grateful for the participating chefs and all the other volunteers who create a delicious and successful evening,” says Food Bank CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez. “I also want to thank everyone who purchases a ticket. You will enjoy an amazing evening with exquisite food and wine.”

Jeff Terpstra, in charge of front-of-house, volunteers for many reasons. “It’s a powerful, fun event. The Food Bank is one of the best ‘bang for the buck’ charities, the dollars raised really make a difference. What I marvel at is the multiplier, how one donated dollar can bring in three meals that meet nutritional requirements. That’s incredible leverage of the market and of donor money — makes me proud to be a volunteer.”

Chef Tabitha Stroup, who operates Friend in Cheeses Jam Co., is participating for the first time and creating two appetizers. One she’s considering is small creamer potatoes roasted with Big Sur salt and olive oil, topped with crème fraiche and pickled chive blossoms. “Whatever I do will be seasonal, locally sourced, and creative.”

Stroup said the event aligns with her values. Her second business, Terroir in a Jar, helps farmers decrease food waste and increase revenue by transforming “ugly, unsold produce” into private-labeled preserves, culinary vinegars and shrubs. “I chose to participate because — as is clear from Terroir — I believe that food is love and that accessible food is a human right. The Food Bank reaches an underserved demographic. They provide nutritious, meaningful meals for people that are vulnerable, and they do it with grace and with honor.”

For HOME Restaurant chef/owner Brad Briske, the Chefs’ Dinner will be his third. He’s said he’s always willing to pitch in and do whatever course is needed. This year, he’ll contribute a salad/vegetable dish. “I am excited because it’s what we strive to achieve at HOME, with beautiful organic lettuce picked the day before plus local vegetables simply prepared to be pure and exactly what they are.”

One reason he participates: “Feeding the community is what feeds the restaurant. What I mean by that: We have done every community event that we’ve ever been asked to do. The community is what supports and feeds us, feeds our family, through the restaurant … it allows us to keep doing what we love.”

Briske said he believes that food is medicine, and good-quality food can make people happier and healthier. “It’s wonderful that there is an organization like The Food Bank that works hard to feed people in the community that can’t be fed.”

It will also be Tom McNary’s third time at this event. McNary is currently cooking at La Posta while chef Rodrigo Serna is on paternity leave. “When Patrice (Boyle, La Posta’s owner) asked, I jumped at the chance,” says McNary. “I am happy to donate my time and efforts to a cause that helps bring healthy food to the community as a whole — especially children,” he adds.

Chef Nick Sherman (of Trestles and the soon-to-be-opened Cavalletta) is also making a course. When asked why he is volunteering for the second consecutive year, Sherman replies, “Most importantly, it feels good to help raise money for such a worthy cause. Part of it is nostalgia. Santa Cruz is my hometown. Years ago, I assisted a chef with this dinner before I moved to Napa. Now I’ve moved back and opened my own restaurant, so it’s come full circle.”

Gabriella Café’s chef Gema Cruz is also participating for the second consecutive year. “It’s a great honor,” says Cruz. “This is a widely recognized event that raises money, which provides lots of food to very deserving people.” Although subject to change, Cruz plans to cook her signature mole for the event. Mole is a very popular dish at Gabriella.

Jesikah Stolaroff of Vim Dining and Desserts is creating the dessert. “This is the first year I’ve been able to volunteer. I’ve been interested in participating in the past, but starting and building my restaurant as head chef and owner has required me to be onsite to maintain an integrity of the standard of my food.”

She said she values the giving-back philosophy behind this fundraiser: “Chefs volunteering time to cook nourishing and delicious food for attendees that then pay it forward to help provide food to others.” Stolaroff is excited about contributing. “This is a fantastic organization. I love that the event brings chefs together — we all have a shared goal: feeding people. And it’s a celebration and appreciation of food, not only enjoying it, but also helping to fill the gap to support food security. Everyone is deserving of nourishment and the amount of food insecurity in this country is unacceptable, especially for children.”

Anthony Kresge has volunteered for many years. He usually creates a course, but this year Kresge is serving as captain of the chefs. He is a liaison between the kitchen and the front-of-house (with the aforementioned Jeff Terpstra at the helm) at the event and helps chefs menu-plan in the weeks leading to the dinner. “I am honored to be the chef captain,” says Kresge. “I wanted to open up an opportunity for another talented chef. I can still be part of the dinner’s goal and collaborative culture and play an important part.”

Terpstra has been involved since the beginning. The first two years he attended with his wife, who was part of the dinner’s organizing committee. At the time, he worked at the Aptos/La Selva Fire District, which helped with The Food Bank’s holiday food drive, so he was familiar with the nonprofit. Terpstra became a server for five years. “Then, the front-of-house person stepped down, and I stepped in,” he says. “I’ve been doing it ever since!”

Terpstra supervises the volunteer servers and set-up crew. “They are a great, diverse group — sometimes including contractors, nurses, doctors, lawyers and bankers.” Certain volunteers come early on event day and set up tables — which can get complicated with the number of courses. “It all has to work, look good, and be consistent.” He also trains waiters on how to do everything efficiently. “It takes some time, and we get in a cadence.”

Padilla-Chavez looks forward to seeing the chefs, volunteers and attendees on Oct. 25. “Your compassion and generosity will help ensure that every child in Santa Cruz County has access to nutritious meals. Together, we are The Food Bank, and we nourish our community.”