The February issue of Food & Wine marks the launch of Chefs Make Change, a new campaign that aims to bring attention to 10 chefs who have their own charitable organization, or have a cause that they're so heavily identified with that it almost seems like their own. It was an idea that came to Food & Wine's editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin, who was inspired to discover if they could also raise $1 million for the 10 chef charities. That goal has in turn led chef Mario Batali to consider chopping off his iconic ponytail if the Mario Batali Foundation can raise $500,000 by Feb. 7.
In the following interview, Dana Cowin discusses the campaign's future, how to donate, and other ways that chefs can help. She also suggests a new suave hairstyle for chef Batali. Bon appetito, Mario.
What sparked the Chefs Make Change initiative?
I noticed that all of these chefs were beginning to have their own foundations. For instance, Mario Batali started the Mario Batali Foundation and Emeril has the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. I kept coming across more and more chefs who were taking control of their philanthropic lives and I felt like there was a trend forming. I also felt like it would be fantastic to find a way to highlight what these chefs’ organizations really do. So we developed a story for the magazine, and on those two pages where they’re featured, they have recipes so our readers can get a taste of what they’re all about and be educated about the charity. But then I started thinking that this wasn’t really going far enough. And there was this moment, this middle-of-the-night idea, “Let’s raise a million dollars!” It was sort of a lightning flash. Then I shared idea with idea with the people who can bring it to life here and they were really enthusiastic about it.
So how did the different chefs get involved?
We did an enormous amount of research to try to find chefs who are not just philanthropic (because there are many chefs who are enthusiastic about philanthropy), but who have major commitments because of their own involvement with a charity or because they’re affiliated with an organization that is almost synonymous with them. For instance, Bill Telepan does not run Wellness in the Schools, but is one of the most visible public faces of Wellness in the Schools. There were definitely chefs that we weren’t able to include in the coalition this time around, but I think that we also got many of the chefs with the largest head start in the philanthropic world.
How do people contribute to Chefs Make Change?
There are two ways to donate. You can go to Food & Wine‘s Facebook page, or you can go to the chefs’ own sites. But because this is all really going to be driven by donating online, we thought the best way to reach people was to reach out to those people who are already online.
How long is the campaign and what are the goals?
We actually believe that it will take us a while to raise $1 million, but we plan to check back in and report numbers at the end of February. The issue is the February issue, but this is really an open-ended campaign, and the goal is to raise as much money as possible.
Will Food & Wine do this every year?
Yes, all of the chefs involved were interested in having this be an ongoing program. Going forward, the idea would be that we would introduce new features. One possibility we’ve discussed relates to mentorship. Each of the 10 chefs has promised to mentor another chef in philanthropy — because it’s kind of hard to sort out all the choices when you’re a chef. So, we would add some new parts to the campaign next time.
Is it open to other chefs with organizations? If not now, will it be?
We could potentially add more chefs. We also wanted to see what happens. We think it’s a very exciting campaign, and a valuable thing to do, but we want to understand how the world responds to it and how much traction we can get. I think the biggest challenge… obviously, people love the chefs, and their organizations, but the greatest challenge is moving people to action. How do you actually get them to click the donate button? I want to make sure we’re able to really make that happen.
Facebook and Twitter are considerable components of Chefs Make Change. Can you talk about the benefits of their integration?
There are a couple of reasons to use Twitter and Facebook so heavily. Twitter is a great translation to action. So if we tweet a link to a magazine recipe, we get a lot of activity from that. And Facebook implores people to action. The great thing is that the way this is set up with Facebook, you can like any of the organizations or the page, and friends will see that, and then the hope is that all the people who are the primary people involved will fall in love with this, and that virally we’ll get a lot of people interested.
Is there something besides donating that chefs who want to affect change can do to lend a hand that maybe they haven’t thought of?
I think that one of the things that these very experienced chefs can teach the younger generation of chefs, and anyone who is curious, is the best way to deploy their resources, which is an icky way of saying that as a small restaurant that only has so much time and money, how can you make the most with what you’ve got. So for instance, Cat Cora sends chefs to help with emergency relief, but that’s something that requires time and money, but it’s not the same as cooking for 10 charity dinners in one month. There are other ways that chefs can lend their expertise. They can pair up with City Harvest and teach classes, for instance. One thing Mario Batali does is he goes to food banks and teaches kids and families how to make dishes with the resources available from the food bank. That’s really valuable, but that’s something that a chef without a lot of time and money could still do that’s really great.
Mario tweeted a link to a Huffington Post article saying he’d consider cutting off the ponytail he’s worn for 15 years if the Mario Batali Foundation can raise $500,000 by Feb. 7. When he makes it, what do you think would be the right move, hairstyle-wise for him? Mohawk, crew cut?
[Laughs] "When." I like that. That’s interesting. I actually think that as an Italian, and a very suave one, he could just have that back of the neck curl up that Italian aristocrats have. I think that he could just wear that Italian wave.