Chef Bryan Voltaggio explains why serving the community through Share Our Strength can be just as rewarding as serving up a world-class dish.
By Brian Voltaggio
I first got involved with the national non-profit Share Our Strength as a young chef coming up through the ranks at Charlie Palmer Steak, long before I became a father. Raising two children has inspired me to do more in recent years, like hosting annual dinners at VOLT that have raised more than $210,000 for the cause I care so deeply about – making sure that no kid goes hungry in America. In September, Chefs Charlie Palmer, Cathal Armstrong, Spike Gjerde and Matt Hill joined me in creating a masterful multi-course menu for the second annual dinner to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
One in five children in America struggles with hunger. As a chef and a father, I can’t stand the thought that children in this country go to bed hungry at night. The parent in me knows the challenges of raising a family, and can’t imagine how those challenges would be compacted if I wasn’t able to put enough food on the table. I’m not a doctor; I can’t cure cancer. But I can feed people, and it’s my responsibility to do so. I can also shine a light on this nearly invisible problem. We don’t lack food in this land of plenty. We just need to connect kids in need to the food that’s out there.
The Washington-area culinary community is incredibly generous, as I have seen in the many charity events I’ve participated in over the years. Through all those events, one organization stood out to me – Share Our Strength. They had a deadline and a measure of success. They were going to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. Chefs are motivated by deadlines – dinner service at VOLT starts at 5:30 p.m., and we have to be ready when guests walk through the front door. Setting a goal and an end date motivates me to get the job done. In 2016, I want to say I was part of ending childhood hunger in America.
The more people who get involved in this fight, the closer we’ll get to that goal. There is a lot to do, but the No Kid Hungry campaign is working. In my home state of Maryland, the campaign has increased participation rates in the federal school breakfast and summer meals program, so that more kids get the healthy food they need to thrive, every day.
It has been an incredible honor to stand alongside my mentor, Chef Charlie Palmer, in this fight. Seeing Chef cooking at VOLT was surreal. Before he came in, I told my staff this would be the first time they would see me calling someone “Chef” in my kitchen. I always hoped for his approval when I opened my own restaurant, and that night, I felt that I got it.
As chefs, we live for food. To serve a meal knowing that there are kids in my community who aren’t getting enough to eat infuriates me. I’ve been fortunate to realize many of my goals: becoming a father, opening my own restaurant, authoring a cookbook with my brother. But there is one more goal that I’ve made my own – ending childhood hunger in America – and I’m working to get there by 2015.
Chef Bryan Voltaggio is chef and owner of the three-star reviewed restaurant VOLT in his native Frederick, Maryland. He is a James Beard Best Mid-Atlantic Chef nominee and was named Chef of the Year by both the non-profit Share Our Strength and the Restaurant Association of Maryland in 2010.