Charitable Culinary Collaborations: Local Chefs And Non-Profits Working Together For The Greater Good


Participate. Educate. Donate; Anne Marie Panoringan

There was a time when the word charity only meant dipping into your wallet or cutting a check for a good cause. These days it can still mean that. More often than not, there’s a cause-and-effect that goes beyond money. Chefs and other industry professionals have grown more active in the non-profit circuit, donating their time and skill to benefit others. We’ve got a handful of examples to make us rethink what it means to be charitable.


Pascal Olhats at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand; photo courtesy The Gray Event

The Gray Event

Chef and restaurateur (he celebrates 30 years of being in the industry in 2018) Pascal Olhats spent a week in Chang Mai, Thailand, at Save Elephant Foundation’s Elephant Nature Park. “We met elephants from all over the region. Some had scars from shackles, while others had been used for tourist entertainment, causing major damage to their bodies. I was inspired by Save Elephant Foundation’s founder Lek Chailert, and knew I wanted to take action once I returned home.” 

The Gray Event’s recent dinner was an evening of auctions and awareness about a group we wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for Pascal. The event has become so popular, it has outgrown the space used at Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar (but will be relocating to a larger venue next year). Chef has demonstrated that it only takes one person’s desire to make a change for things to happen. 


photo courtesy Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer’s Association

OC Weekly’s Fresh Toast event is proud to donate a portion of proceeds from ticket sales to the Alzheimer’s Association. This group works on a local, national and global level to advance care, support and research for all affected by Alzheimer’s and other dimentias. Attending both the brunch-themed party and being able to give money to a good cause at the same time is a win-win in our book.


Bill Bracken of Bracken’s Kitchen; OC Weekly archives

Bracken’s Kitchen

We met Bill Bracken a few years ago while covering a different topic, but it was our On the Line interview with him back in 2016 that put a spotlight on his current mission. Per Bill,

“Food is a very powerful thing, as evidenced by our obsession with it and its presence all across the social media world. However, now I look at it much differently. In life, as humans we all share two of the most basic needs for survival: the need to breathe and the need to eat. The problem is, air is free and food is not.

It is that notion that has changed me the most. I no longer look at food as an avenue to fame, fortune and success. I now look at it as a basic human need, and the role I can play in helping to provide to those who need it most. And not one of those TV dinners, but a real high-quality meal. After all, when did a nutritious meal become a luxury in America?”

While Bracken’s Kitchen accepts both monetary and food donations, what they could always use more of is time. Volunteers prepping in the kitchen, serving meals and sharing their skills on the administrative side for this charity are greatly appreciated. 


Photo courtesy Sweet Charity Cookies

Sweet Charity Cookies

With a background serving on the board of numerous non-profits, PR agency owner and adjunct professor Christopher Trela took his love of baking a step further. His award-winning cookies would partner with a different non-profit organization each month. Half of the net profits from all cookie sales that month go to the charity. Sweet Charity Cookies launched in 2015, after a successful crowdfunding campaign and donation of 650 cookies to the OC National Philanthropy Day luncheon.

When Christopher isn’t writing about food, he’s teaching Media Relations and PR Campaigns at Chapman University. Trela understands the impact of donations in any amount, and through his organization he’s able to pair his talent with worthy causes.


2017 OC Chef’s Table; Anne Marie Panoringan

OC Chef’s Table

This elaborate annual event is being held at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa on March 18. Coordinating over 30 Orange County chefs, the reception and meal benefit Illumination Foundation. Their mission is to provide services for clients to break the cycle of homelessness. As Co-Founder and CFO of I.F. Paul Cho states, “Every person deserves compassion, dignity and the safety of a place to call home.” Events like OC Chef’s Table are ways in which many restaurants can participate towards a common goal. It’s also one of the few opportunities when chefs can connect, as they’re usually in their respective kitchens most days.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

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