Nothing brings Maine’s top chefs together like a good cause, and this summer is no exception as chefs from the state’s best restaurants gather on Great Diamond Island to fight childhood hunger.
The 7th Annual Taste of the Nation benefit will be held this Sunday from 3:45 to 8 p.m. at the Diamond’s Edge Restaurant, where fabulous food will be served by such well-known Portland chefs as Sam Hayward of Fore Street, Larry Matthews of Back Bay Grill and Krista Kern Desjarlais of Bresca, and Richard Hanson of Cleonice in Ellsworth.
Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five Fifty-Five in Portland, will be bringing his signature truffled lobster mac and cheese.
Brian Hill, chef/owner of Francine Bistro in Camden and Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport, will be making what sounds like a gourmet version of poutine, a dish of curry fries with shallot gravy, local cheese curd and foie gras snow.
The VIP tickets, which include an early reception, have already sold out, but there are still general admission tickets available for $125 each at ce.strength.org/portlandme.
General admission ticket holders will take a chartered ferry from the Casco Bay Lines terminal at 3:45 p.m. and return after the event ends at 8 p.m. by any of the ferries headed back to Portland. There’s a ferry scheduled for 7:50 p.m., but guests who’d like to linger at the restaurant can catch the 9:15 p.m. or 10:45 p.m. ferry home.
Nearly one in four Maine children don’t know where or when they’ll get their next meal. Last year’s Taste of the Nation event, organized by the state chapter of Share Our Strength, raised $103,000 to fight childhood hunger. This year, organizers are hoping to top that and reach $125,000.
This year’s beneficiaries will be Opportunity Alliance, the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Cultivating Community and the Preble Street Teen Center.
The Prentice family, owners of the Diamond’s Edge, and the restaurant’s executive chef Justin Rowe are hosting the event. The fundraiser was last held on the island four years ago. Since then, it’s been held twice at Southern Maine Community College and once on Cow Island.
"The venue changes partly because of the availability of the venue and partly because I just like to keep things different and fresh," said John Woods, Maine chairman for Share Our Strength. "The idea of doing it on the island is not daunting to me. There are extra things we definitely have to do, but just put it on the list and we’ll knock it out. We have a really good (organizing) committee this year. I really think if we put anything in front of them, they would figure out how to do it."
Each year the event is held, Woods and the organizing committee seem to find new ways to create efficiencies and lure in more sponsors so that more of the proceeds actually go to the cause and not expenses. (Those expenses do not include food-related costs. The chefs volunteer their time and donate the food.)
Last year, the group spent $20,000 on costs related to the event; this year, that’s expected to be cut by more than half.
This year, for example, the Maine event is borrowing an idea from the Atlanta Taste of the Nation event that has resulted in each invidivual chef being sponsored by a local business, from a law firm to a dental practice or printing company, to the tune of $1,000.
"What it really is asking the chefs to do is to find people in their network and ask them to introduce our work and the issue of childhood hunger to the people who are important to them — their financial people, their vendors, their farmers, their suppliers," Woods said. "And they just simply have conversations and invite them in the form of a sponsorship."
They were able to cut a big expense by not renting a large tent. The restaurant already has one, Woods noted, "and they gave it to us for free."
Woods was also able to save money on the logistics of getting food and other supplies out to the island by tapping contributor Sysco of Northern New England, which recruited 25 volunteers and assigned them each to a chef.
The volunteers will escort the chefs to the boat, make sure they have everything they need, and help load supplies onto the boat. They’ll travel with the chefs to the island, unload the supplies, help with set-up and be available for any needs throughout the event. At the end of the evening, they’ll help pack everything up and get it back to the boat.
Leftovers from the event will be donated to Preble Street Resource Center’s kitchen.
Here are other events Share Our Strength has scheduled for the rest of the year:
JULY 4: The Great American Ice Cream Fest will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. during the third annual Stars and Stripes Spectacular on Portland’s Eastern Promenade.
This ice cream tasting will be the first charity event for the city’s July 4 celebration. The proceeds will benefit both Share Our Strength and Mercy Hospital’s "Best Shot for Youth" program, which underwrites free sports physicals for youth and supports projects such as the rehabilitation of outdoor community basketball courts.
The fest will be held on Cutter Street, and only 2,000 tickets will be sold. Ticket holders will sample ice cream from businesses such as Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, Shain’s of Maine, Gelato Fiasco, Shaker Pond, Hood’s, Gifford’s, Friendly’s and more, then vote on their favorites. The winner, "Maine’s Favorite Flavor," will be announced during the Patriotic Pops Concert before the fireworks.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Advance tickets may be purchased through the marketing department at Mercy Hospital, 148 State St.; at the Maine Red Claws offices, 413 Congress St.; or at Quirk Chevrolet, 1000 Brighton Ave.
Remaining tickets will be sold at the gate on the day of the event.
SEPT. 9: Last year, a "No Kid Hungry" dinner held at Hugo’s in Portland raised an astounding $48,000 for Share Our Strength in a single night.
Woods said he hopes to do more of these dinners in the future by enlisting some of the chefs who are regulars at Taste of the Nation and bringing in new chefs to cover Taste of the Nation.
The September event, an intimate seated dinner, will be held at the Black Point Inn and feature several of Portland’s top chefs, including James Beard Award winner Rob Evans.
Chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Hugo’s will host another "No Kid Hungry" dinner at Hugo’s sometime in January, Woods said.
SEPT. 16-22: Dine Out for No Kid Hungry is a designated week during which restaurants nationwide donate a portion of their proceeds to Share Our Strength.
The Maine Restaurant Association will be organizing this year’s Maine version of the event. In addition, to drive awareness of childhood hunger, there will be a second Dine Out for No Kid Hungry week in March.
Find participating restaurants at nokidhungry.org/maps
NOVEMBER: Share Our Strength typically holds a national Great American Bake Sale in April. Woods said he’d like to have Maine’s event in November this year.
"I want to do the Great American Bake Sale of Maine for the entire month of November," Woods said. "That’s Thanksgiving month. People are buying baked goods like crazy. I want to bring the entire baked goods community across the state together and celebrate them for the entire month of November. So we’re going to promote bakeshops and chocolatiers and everything in that category. So it’s kind of like Dine Out where it’s a selection of restaurants that are getting together for one purpose – to end childhood hunger – but in November, it’s a collection of bakers."
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org