Food with heart: This week we fo­cus on how a group of the na­tion’s top chefs are team­ing up for char­ity

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Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING -

Cook­ing a meal to raise money for se­ri­ously ill chil­dren is a mean­ing­ful un­der­tak­ing for any chef. But for Josh Ni­land, the head chef and owner of Saint Peter in Syd­ney, it is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant.

Ni­land was a re­cip­i­ent of the Starlight Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion wish grant­ing pro­gram when he was eight years old.

“I had a child­hood cancer and Starlight gave me and my fam­ily a wish,” Ni­land says. “My wish took us to Chicago, where we were pam­pered with limos, five star ac­com­mo­da­tion and tick­ets to watch the Chicago Bulls play on Christ­mas Eve.”

Ni­land will take part this year in Starlight’s Five Chefs Din­ner, where a quin­tet of Aus­tralia’s best chefs each pre­pare a course of a five-course de­gus­ta­tion menu. “Hav­ing watched chefs par­tic­i­pate in this din­ner I was re­ally hop­ing that some­one would ask me to be in­volved,” he says.

Char­i­ties are of­ten look­ing for ways to cre­ate ex­cite­ment about rais­ing funds, and as a na­tion ob­sessed with food it makes sense that they would call on well-known chefs to help.

For Ronni Kahn, CEO and founder of food res­cue char­ity OzHar­vest, there is a nat­u­ral re­la­tion­ship between chefs and causes. “Chefs are in a ser­vice in­dus­try,” Kahn says. “They want to make their guests feel spe­cial. Chefs pro­vide unique din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, but are also ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about a cause at the same time.”

Steve Wak­er­ley, CEO of Va­ri­ety Queens­land, agrees. “Chefs love to bring peo­ple to­gether through food,” he says. Va­ri­ety of Chefs is a se­ries of gala din­ners held in dif­fer­ent states. Funds raised go to Va­ri­ety’s schol­ar­ship pro­gram,which helps chil­dren who have an ex­ist­ing tal­ent, but also have a disability or are dis­ad­van­taged, to follow their dreams.

In July,Va­ri­ety’s Queens­land din­ner will bring to­gether chefs in­clud­ing Nick Hol­loway from Nu Nu in Palm Cove and Ben Wil­liamson from Gerard’s Bistro to pre­pare a four-course feast for guests.

The line-up at the re­cent Gold Din­ner, an event that sup­ports the Syd­ney Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Rand­wick, was equally starry. Danielle Al­varez of Fred’s and Peter Doyle of Est. were among the Merivale chefs who helped raise over $2 mil­lion for pae­di­atric projects. In its two decade his­tory, the event has gen­er­ated over $25 mil­lion.

The Starlight event has been go­ing even longer. It be­gan in 1993, when Ar­mando Per­cuoco hosted a fundrais­ing din­ner at his res­tau­rant, Buon Ri­cordo. In the fol­low­ing years, some of hos­pi­tal­ity’s big­gest names – Tet­suya Wakuda, Serge Dansereau, Neil Perry and Janni Kyrit­sis – joined Per­cuoco to be­come the “Five Chefs”. Each year, over $2 mil­lion is raised. In its his­tory, that has to­talled over $27 mil­lion.

Ester’s Mat Lind­say joins the chefs on our cover as chef num­ber five this year. Ni­land’s par­tic­i­pa­tion marks the first time that a child who was granted a Starlight wish has re­turned to the event as a cook. It’s some­thing that makes Starlight’s CEO Louise Bax­ter teary. “It’s very hum­bling and emo­tional,” she says. For Bax­ter, the spirit of gen­eros­ity is what makes the event so spe­cial – al­most ev­ery item is do­nated.

“The chefs al­ways come into the Starlight Ex­press Room and have an after­noon with the kids and fam­i­lies,” Bax­ter says. “They might make pasta from scratch or dec­o­rate cup­cakes.They see first­hand the pos­i­tive im­pact of Starlight pro­grams.”

And when chefs are ready to move on, Starlight asks them to find their re­place­ment. “Af­ter about a decade of tire­less sup­port, Neil Perry, who is a Starlight lu­mi­nary, re­placed him­self with Kylie Kwong,” says Bax­ter. “So we get the next wave of amaz­ing chefs.”

What makes col­lab­o­ra­tion between chefs and char­i­ties so fruit­ful is the com­mit­ment of those be­hind the stoves.

“The most suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ships are where the chef has a per­sonal con­nec­tion to the cause,” says Louise Keys, na­tional man­ager for events and

cam­paigns with Ju­ve­nile Di­a­betes Re­search Foun­da­tion (JDRF).

JDRF holds na­tional galas with the aim of rais­ing $1.5 mil­lion to ac­cel­er­ate break­throughs in or­der to cure, treat and pre­vent type 1 di­a­betes and its com­pli­ca­tions.

“We have been very grate­ful to have been sup­ported by Colin Fass­nidge who is closely con­nected with sev­eral JDRF sup­port­ers,” says Keys. “Colin has raised over $78,000 through his do­na­tion of unique din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Aus­tralian chefs are even be­ing en­listed for global ini­tia­tives. In March, an ar­ray of lead­ing toques from Syd­ney and Mel­bourne took part in #Cook­ForSyria,two sell-out din­ners to raise funds for UNICEF and chil­dren dis­placed by the Syr­ian con­flict.

For Ni­land, so closely con­nected with Starlight as a child, pulling on his chef whites for the Syd­ney Five Chefs Din­ner will have spe­cial res­o­nance.

“I am over the moon to be a part of this year’s din­ner,” he says.“They have given me the most pos­i­tive child­hood mem­ory. I am for­ever in their debt.” Starlight’s Five Chefs Din­ner kicks off in Syd­ney on May 25 at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel. For de­tails go to starlight­fivechefs.org.au.

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