Celebrity chefs to share personal stories in virtual event benefiting Feeding America
Nationally celebrated chefs Rocco DiSpirito, Maneet Chauhan, Claudette Zepeda, Aaron May and others are sharing their personal stories around food with USA TODAY in hopes that you'll share your resources to help hungry Americans.
It’s all part of the Storytellers Project’s “LIVE, in Your Home” virtual storytelling show May 14 benefiting Feeding America.
Also part of the lineup are Edward Lee, who wrote and hosted the documentary “Fermented,” and Rosemary Pellett, who will share a personal story about helping her neighbors in need.
The chefs will be sharing stories about the people and dishes that helped define their passion for food, while also calling on viewers to support Feeding America.
Feeding America is facing unprecedented needs as unemployment has reached record numbers, schools have closed early, leaving more meals for families to provide at home, and more Americans are leaning on food banks.
The nonprofit has responded by creating a Coronavirus Response Fund and building an inventory of emergency food boxes to distribute to food banks across the country, as well as emergency grants for food banks to support local response efforts.
“As a chef, food is a personal story for me,” said Chauhan, an Indian-American chef who has written “Flavors of My World: A Culinary Tour Through 25 Countries.” “It's important that people are nourished because food is the language that speaks to the soul.”
Featured as a judge on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” Chauhan’s claim to fame also includes appearances on “Iron Chef” and “The Next Iron Chef,” as well as time as a judge on the Food Network’s finale for “Worst Cooks in America.”
“We are so lucky these chefs have volunteered to share their hearts and their stories with Americans to inspire them to share their own blessings with those in need,” said Megan Finnerty, founder and director of the Storytellers Project, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“The idea behind the show is, the way a meal nurtures the body, these stories nurture the spirit so we feel closer while we stay apart,” she said.
Humana and USA TODAY are partnering to bring the virtual fundraiser to Americans quarantined at home during the novel coronavirus pandemic. It will air on USA TODAY Network websites and social channels, including Storytellers Project's YouTube channel and Facebook page, at 5 p.m. PDT/8 p.m. EDT on Thursday, May 14.
“Before coronavirus, about 37 million Americans struggled to find enough nutritious food, including 5.5 million adults over the age of 60,” said Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer at Humana. “The COVID-19 health crisis has intensified these struggles.
“Humana is committed to ensuring everyone has the nutrition they need for a healthy lifestyle, and we are committed to partnering with organizations like Feeding America to help communities we serve meet their basic needs during this difficult time.”
May, who has told stories previously on the Arizona Storytellers Project's stage, is excited to be helping the cause -- this time in front of a national audience.
“I’m always excited to be a part of something as amazing as the Storytellers Project,” he said. “And when that is coupled with the added benefit of feeding people who are food-insecure, it’s even better.
“I’m lucky enough to live my life because of what food and feeding people has provided for me, so food and feeding people seems like the most obvious way I can give back.”
May and his restaurants have appeared on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” “Guy’s Big Bite” and he has been a contestant and judge on “Guy's Grocery Games,” as well as having the number one spot on The Learning Channel’s "Best Food Ever.”
DiSpirito, known worldwide for his Italian-American cuisine and fusion cooking, also brings his celebrity cred to the show. DiSpirito has written nine cookbooks, including a James Beard award winner, and has been on reality television since 2003, when he debuted on NBC’s “The Restaurant.”
Since then, he has hosted his own show, “Rocco Gets Real” on A&E, served as a guest judge on Bravo-TV’s “Top Chef,” and doled out healthy cooking tips on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser: Couples” and “The Biggest Loser: Families.” In 2011, he starred in his own weekly reality-TV cooking show, “Rocco’s Dinner Party,” on Bravo. In 2013, he hosted the Food Network’s “Restaurants Divided.” Last year, he returned to the restaurant scene as a chef at the Standard Grill in New York City.
Zepeda, a San Diego-based chef known for her regional Mexican cuisine, has racked up many accolades, including being featured on Esquire’s 2018 Best New Restaurants, recognition from Michelin on its 2019 Bib Gourmand list and being named a James Beard Best Chef West semifinalist. TV viewers may recognize her as a “Top Chef Season 15” and “Top Chef Mexico” competitor.
Lee is a restaurateur based in Washington, D.C. He has been featured on “The Mind of a Chef” on PBS and as a contestant on the ninth season of “Top Chef.” Also notable are his four James Beard Award nominations. He is chef and owner of three restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, and culinary director at Succotash in National Harbor, Maryland, and Penn Quarter in Washington, D.C.
For this virtual storytelling show, the five chefs will step outside of celebrityhood to answer a more altruistic calling -- elevating a cause close to their hearts while building community and creating empathy with their personal stories. Pellett of Waverly, New York, will join them with a personal story about giving back to the community after facing food insecurity herself.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. To help get food to people in need, the organization is working with farmers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers and food service companies. It’s also raising awareness of food insecurity, advocating and conducting research around the topic to strategically break the cycle of poverty and hunger.
Feeding America relies on donations to meet its goals. Every dollar donated to the organization helps provide 10 meals for people in need, according to its website. Visit Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Page to donate now or during the show.
Upcoming virtual shows and themes
- May 14: Meaningful Moments of Meals
- May 28: Outdoor Adventures
- June 11: Resiliency
- June 25: Friends and Family
- July 9: Kid Stories
- July 23: Stylish Stories
- Aug. 6: Fresh Starts
- Aug. 20: Lessons Learned
- Sep. 3: Stories About Stories