06/27/2012 10:36 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

In Defense of Chefs: A Love Letter

Last week I wrote "A Love Letter to Chicago Chefs" reflecting on the last 13 years I have spent in Chicago as my family and I prepare to move to Austin, Texas. In it I was able to share the generosity, kindness and care I have been lucky enough to experience firsthand. But that's not the whole story because I have encountered those wonderful qualities in chefs from around the country.

All of which led me to think of the New York Times article last month titled "For Them, a Great Meal Tops Good Intentions" that sparked a heated discussion about whether a chef has an obligation to the planet when creating a menu.

Over the last nine years as executive director of Common Threads, I have had the great honor and pleasure to get to know world-renowned chefs from across the nation. They all have undeniable culinary talents, but I have been truly inspired to witness these rock-star chefs bring their passions for food beyond the plate and into their communities.

So you can imagine my disappointment in the narrow focus of the article and ensuing debate as they both largely overlooked the amazing work chefs do on a regular basis, in ways big and small, without much fanfare, sharing their talents and understanding of the power of food to improve our cities and nation.

That's why today I'm writing a love letter to all chefs. Sure, chefs have become celebrities, featured in fantastic shows like Top Chef, giving us an unprecedented peek into the once hidden world of creativity and pressure they inhabit. While these are certainly fascinating parts of their lives, chefs do so much more for their communities than feed those lucky enough to eat in their restaurants. From charity events to running personal foundations, it's high time we recognize and acknowledge their contributions outside of the kitchen.

Nothing could exemplify this better than the wonderful chefs who have participated in Common Threads events in Chicago, Miami, D.C. and LA. They have donated their time, perhaps a chef's most precious resource, food and talent to support our work teaching low-income children how to cook wholesome, delicious meals and it is with great delight that I share a sampling of these chefs and their work.

To all of the chefs below, and to those I didn't have room to mention, I know what you do isn't easy, although you always make it look easy. I know how much you sacrifice to bring your creations to life. And now, I'm going to let everyone in on your secret: You do this not for the fame or the accolades, but because you love to bring joy to others, make their lives better -- either through a meal or through your philanthropic work.

Therefore, on behalf of all of the children who participate in Common Threads programs and all of the lives you have touched, thank you thank you thank you for sharing your incredible talents and gifts to make the world a tastier, healthier and better place!



Michelle Bernstein is a James Beard award winner, Iron Chef and host of PBS' Check Please! Her Miami restaurants Michy's and Sra. Martinez have both earned national raves from Gourmet, Food & Wine and Esquire. Michelle opened Common Threads' Miami chapter and oversees the programs and guest teaches -- all in the midst of her hectic schedule.

Domenica Catelli owns Catelli's in Sonoma County, Cali., which has been featured on the popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. She has cooked for everyone from Oprah to Nelson Mandela. As a regular contributor to WebMD, Domenica focuses on helping families eat healthier and has served as the national spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association, Stonyfield Farms and T-Mobile. A regular guest judge on Iron Chef, her cookbook Mom-alicious: Fresh, Fast, Family Food for the Hot Mama in You! is a favorite of Dr. Oz. Her commitment to helping children eat better has brought her passion to Common Threads' Chef Advisory Board.

Jose Garces operates several successful restaurants around the country, has authored a best-selling cookbook Latin Evolution, won a James Beard award and is an Iron Chef. He recently founded the Garces Family Foundation, whose mission is to improve the health and education of the underprivileged immigrant population in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Carla Hall is well known as a finalist in the 5th and 8th seasons of Top Chef and is a cohost on ABC's The Chew, but those of us lucky enough to try her food and Alchemy cookies know that she is, first and foremost, an incredible chef. Carla has brought her energy, passion and spirit to support Common Threads programs in Washington, D.C.

Ingrid Hoffman is the host of Food Network's Simply Delicioso and Delicioso on Galavision/Univison, has her own line of cookware with T-Fal, cookware, cutlery and kitchen accessories sold on HLN and just released her first cookbook Simply Delicioso: A Collection of Everyday Recipes with a Latin Twist . Originally from Columbia, Ingrid supports many organizations, including Common Threads in Miami.

Paul Kahan is a stalwart of the Chicago culinary world with several restaurants, including the internationally-renowned Blackbird. Among his many honors, Chef Kahan was named Food & Wine's Best New Chef, won a James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest and has been nominated twice for the James Beard Outstanding Chef Award. Chef Kahan and Matthias Merges of Yusho Restaurant founded Pilot Light, a collective of culinary arts professionals that work with schools and community organizations to empower children to take control of their health through food science and nutrition curriculum in the classroom to improve their well being and influence the way kids think about food.

Michael Laiskonis won Bon Appétit's American Food & Entertaining Award, was named one of the "10 Best Pastry Chefs in America" by Pastry Art and Design twice and contributed to Le Bernardin's four-star review by Frank Bruni in the New York Times. Chef Laiskonis will now step outside the restaurant industry to become creative director at the Institute of Culinary Education to educate the next generation of American chefs on topics including nutrition.

Bill Telepan opened Telepan in 2006. Since 2008, Chef Telepan has been the Executive Chef of Wellness in the Schools, a New York City-based non-profit that inspires healthy eating, environmental awareness, and fitness as a way of life where he develops nutritious school menus, trains cafeteria workers, and teaches culinary skills and nutrition to students, parents, and teachers.

Jared Van Camp owns restaurants in San Diego and Chicago, including his most recent venture, Nellcôte, all of which are dedicated to the use of locally grown and sustainable foods. Chef Van Camp has been named one of The 10 Most Important Chefs Right Now and Best New Chef in Chicago by Time Out Chicago, and Favorite Chef of the Year by San Diego 944 Magazine. Chef Van Camp donated his time and restaurant to Common Threads' Paint it Black (Tie) fundraiser last month in Chicago, participated in the Los Angeles World Festival last fall and was a guest chef at a Common Threads class.

Marc Vetri owns 4 restaurants in the Philadelphia area, including Vetri, was named one of Food & Wine's Ten Best New Chefs and won the James Beard Award for "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic." The Vetri Foundation for Children helps kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living -- bodies and minds -- through food, education and social interaction.