Camden chef cooks to end childhood hunger
Camden — Chef Brian Hill said he was putting together his daily menu at Francine Bistro in Camden when the phone rang earlier this summer. On the phone was Portland chef Rob Evans calling to ask Hill if he would consider donating his time to participate as a guest chef in a dinner to benefit Share Our Strength Maine, an organization that works to actively combat childhood hunger. Hill said he immediately agreed and has begun the work of preparing for the event, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 9 at The Black Point Inn in Scarborough.
"Even though I'm incredibly busy, it was hard to even think about saying 'no,'" Hill said.
Hill said he has worked with Share Our Strength before as the organization has chapters nationwide and has been active in Maine since 2006. Hill recalls working a Share Our Strength event in Boston during the mid-90s when he was a chef at the nationally recognized Todd English restaurant Figs. Recently he participated in Taste of the Nation, Share Our Strength's premiere fundraiser, in June 2012 on Great Diamond Island.
"It kind of blew me away," he said of Taste of the Nation. "It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen for a charity."
Share Our Strength produces a growing collection of annual fundraisers including Taste of the Nation, Great American Bake Sale, Dine Out for No Kid Hungry (formerly Great American Dine Out), A Tasteful Pursuit, Cooking Matters and a number of specialized dinners and events. Every dollar raised through Share Our Strength events directly supports combating childhood hunger in Maine, said Share Our Strength Maine Chairman John Woods of Cape Elizabeth.
Woods said more than 70,000 children in Maine live in "food insecure" households. Woods said food insecure means that there is "no nutritional food in the house." He said often food insecurity occurs in "transitional" housing situations. Children living with food insecurity at home typically rely on receiving most of their nutritious meals during the school day, and only 70 percent of children in Maine eligible for free or reduced lunch are signed up for the program, Woods said. The goal of Share Our Strength is to interface with anti-hunger organizations, providing funding and creating a network of partnerships that make nutritious food available to children and families, said Woods.
Woods explained that No Kid Hungry Dinners — like all events produced for Share Our Strength — take advantage of an ever-changing array of venues and concepts.
"Chefs are a creative bunch," Woods explained.
Evans, a decorated Portland chef and former chef/owner of Hugo's restaurant, has played an increasingly active roll in Share Our Strength. His participation in the No Kid Hungry Dinners has been so great that in 2010 Woods asked Evans — already a member of the Share Our Strength Steering Committee — to work exclusively on the dinners. Evans has risen to the challenge, raising $48,000 in a single evening at an event he hosted at Hugo's in 2010. Woods said Evans immediately chose to invite Hill as a guest chef at the Sept. 9 event.
"We're always searching for chefs outside of Portland," Woods said, noting that the organization is run on a 100 percent volunteer basis.
Money raised from the five-course No Kid Hungry Dinner will go directly to benefiting programs such as Cooking Matters and Summer Meals and organizations including The Good Shepherd Food Bank — a leading distributor of good to food pantries throughout Maine — and Preble Street Teen Center. Every dollar raised will provide 10 meals for hungry children, according to the Share Our Strength Maine Facebook Page.
The Cooking Matters program offers low-income families a chance to learn how to cook from one of a number of professional chefs who volunteer to teach classes. Woods said the chefs become personally invested in helping parents learn how to make nutritious, hearty and thrifty meals to nourish their families. The Summer Meals program focuses on providing access to healthy meals for kids during the months when they can't rely on school nutrition programs.
Hill and Evans will participate as guest chefs, cooking alongside Black Point Inn Executive Chef William Benner. Hill said each of them will prepare two "passed hors oeuvres and two courses."
"I had a couple crazy ideas for dishes I wanted to do, and they happen to fit in perfectly," he said.
Hill will prepare a cold, roast tuna with tofu and melon, and poached duck necks with sopressata, cherry tomatoes and sunflower two ways. All of the ingredients in each of his dishes will be sourced locally, he said. He explained that the duck preparation is a variation of a dish he learned how to prepare in Sicily. He likened it to a "duck sausage." The tuna dish, which uses tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine, translates to "tuna cooked like pork," Hill said.
Hill will celebrate his 10-year anniversary as chef/owner of Francine in December. While his acclaim is no secret — he's been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards — Hill takes a humble approach.
"I'm not really a fan of chef culture, but I am a fan of great cooks," he explained. "I think all of [the chefs associated with S.O.S.] know how hard it is to run a restaurant, and in spite of that they make great food, that's who I admire."
In addition to donating his time at the Scarborough event on Sept. 9, Hill has also offered to donate a dinner for eight guests at Francine. The dinner will be paired with a local lodging package and auctioned off, said Woods.
Taste of the Nation raised $140,000 Woods said, funds that will be administered to directly help children eat better — and enough — in Maine.
"The organization is fond of saying we're an 'organization based in the culinary industry,'" Woods said. "When you tell a chef about hungry kids, they're going to do whatever they can, anyone would," he added.
Tickets to the No Kid Hungry Dinner at The Black Point Inn in Scarborough are $250 and are all-inclusive. "Every dollar" benefits ending childhood hunger, Woods said. For further information, or to make a reservation, contact John Woods at (207) 838-9511.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.