06/24/2015 09:50 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

America's Chefs Ride 600 Miles to End Childhood Hunger

The second annual #ChefsCycle ride to benefit No Kid Hungry sets the stage for a new cause-based cycling franchise

I'm in a paceline with Chefs Jason Roberts and Jeff Mahin on the Pacific Coast Highway, rolling through Malibu, California. We're spinning along at 30 mph, riding in a narrow sleuth between weekend traffic on our left and a blur of of parked cars and surf boards to the right. This is the final stretch of a 100-mile ride that started in Santa Barbara earlier in the day and is about to end in Santa Monica. And although we have two more days and another 200 miles to go, ultimately ending up in San Diego, you wouldn't know it from the pace. Roberts and Mahin are dropping the hammer to support a great cause...and to put the hurt on me.

A photo posted by @nokidhungry on

Roberts is a celebrity chef and author, who advocates for healthy, gluten-free diets;
Mahin is a chef/partner with the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group, overseeing a number of properties in Chicago and Los Angeles. And each of them shares lead evangelist duties for (#ChefsCycle), a new cause-based cycling event that supports No Kid Hungry and its mission to end childhood hunger in America.

A photo posted by Jason Roberts (@chefjasonroberts) on

For its second year, #ChefsCycle features East- and West-Coast versions, which go from New York City to Washington D.C. from June 7th to 9th and Santa Barbara to San Diego from June 14th to 16th respectfully for a grand total of about 600 miles. Roberts and Mahin are joined by a couple dozen other chefs who, combined, are raising more than $330,000 for No Kid Hungry. This translates into roughly three million meals.

No Kid Hungry (NKH) is a campaign of national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, which has grown exponentially over the past five years. Unlike so many health and environmental causes, the goal of NKH is readily achievable with resources alone.

Which is to say it doesn't require a moonshot or scientific breakthrough to get food to children in need. It goes without saying that the children of the world's wealthiest nation should not suffer from malnutrition. Still, according to NKH, one in five kids in the U.S. will face hunger this year. This is why NKH has been partnering with America's chefs and restaurants for nearly 30 years to support its cause. It's a natural fit. By the same token, it's rather perverse that Type 2 diabetes, largely the result of obesity, has reached epidemic proportions among children. So it's also about providing healthy food and, if Roberts has his way, a dash of fitness.

A photo posted by Jeff Mahin (@jmahin) on

Roberts worked with Share Our Strength to conceive and organize the inaugural #ChefsCycle ride in 2014 from New York to D.C., which raised about $25K. The scope expanded to both coasts this year and added many more chefs. They represent a diverse range of restaurant brands and equally varied levels of cycling ability. Roberts and Mahin could be category 5 (or better) road racers. So could Allan Ng of Shake Shack, Ryan Ososky of LA's The Church Key, and Justin Walker of Maine's Earth at Hidden Pond. At the other end of the spectrum, though, you have Share our Strength CEO Billy Shore, James Siao of Kimpton Hotels, and Neville Craw, executive chef for Arby's, who had never ridden a century before this.

Craw actually rode on a bike supplied by the Arby's Foundation, which was purchased for this specific event. Although he crashed in the final miles riding into Santa Monica, bruising several ribs on impact, Craw still managed to complete his first century and ultimately finish the ride to San Diego. As we toasted to the finish, he said, "I hope Arby's lets me keep the bike, because I'd really like to get more into it."

This is the type of resolve and enthusiasm that can enable #ChefsCycle to become the next, big cause-based cycling event -- one on par with the better-known AIDS rides. The NKH campaign already has a national network of chefs and restaurants that support its mission. Many of these people are cycling enthusiasts, and it's great to have that core, but the vast majority are looking for a good reason to jumpstart a fitness regimen. This network provides the foundation and infrastructure for a national platform. Then you have the obvious synergy between food and fitness that you don't find with other cause-based rides. For participants, this translates into a value-added benefit. With #ChefsCycle, you wind up at superb eateries such as The Lark (Santa Barbara), M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica), 3 Square Cafe (Venice), Working Class Kitchen (Long Beach), and Puesto (San Diego). It's all part of the adventure.

So it's not hard to imagine these culinary bike tours happening throughout the year, all across the country and, through the process, raising tens of millions of dollars to feed American children in need.