Tearing Up the Menu: Leveraging Celebrity and Innovation to Change the World

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How has the rise of the celebrity chef impacted non-profit fundraising? Legendary chef Jonathan Waxman and super fundraiser Billy Harris sit down with host Billy Shore in New York City to talk about celebrity, creativity and how their professional and philanthropic lives came to be intertwined. Waxman was one of the first chefs to use his celebrity on behalf of No Kid Hungry and has continued to do so for 35 years. “The awareness of what you do is so important – a lot of time we ignore the plight of the less fortunate and we kind of put blinders on,” he believes. One of the most sought-after MC/auctioneers in the fundraising world, Harris has hosted more than 200 No Kid Hungry events over the past 15 years and raised more than $100M for various charities. “What I’ve learned is everyone likes to eat and drink and have a good time, and we can all do that and at the same time raise a few bucks for people that are a little less fortunate,” he says.

Waxman was a professional musician before becoming a chef and describes the parallels between the two professions. “I think there’s a lot of loneliness involved with it… At the end of the day, giving back helps assuage part of my loneliness,” he explains. Harris was doing stand-up comedy before he discovered his career 30 years ago and never looked back. “I am not an auctioneer, I’m a funny guy with a microphone that knows how to work a room. I get to be me and do what I love to do and raise money for these organizations,” he concludes.

Listen in as these two long-time No Kid Hungry champions talk about how giving back is central in their lives.

Resources and Mentions:

Jonathan Waxman

A native Californian whose family nurtured him in the food arts from an early age. He received the Grand Diplôme from La Varenne School in Paris and mentored with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse before graduating to Executive Chef of Michael’s in Santa Monica. In 1984, Waxman made his mark in New York with the iconic Jams, which he followed up with a string of successes in New York, London and Napa Valley. Today, he is chef and owner of Barbuto in Manhattan’s West Village and Jams in 1 Hotel Central Park. In 2014, he opened Nashville restaurant, Adele’s, with partners Howard Greenstone and Ken Levitan and is a founding partner of Nashville’s Music City Food + Wine Festival. Brezza Cucina, his Italian concept, opened in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market in fall 2015. Waxman is the 2016 James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef, New York City”. He is a judge on Bravo’s Recipe for Deception and has appeared on two seasons of Top Chef Masters. He works closely with many charities, including Citymeals-on-Wheels and Alex’s Lemonade Stand. He is the author of cookbooks, A Great American Cook and Italian, My Way.

Billy Harris

Has been wowing corporate audiences throughout the United States and around the world for 25 years. His razor-sharp timing and brilliant improvisational skills have made him one of the most sought-after Corporate MC’s in the business. A cousin of Vaudeville great Georgie Jessel, Billy has been performing his entire life. By the tender age of five and a half, he understood how to “work a room”. Harris has become the “go-to guy” in the culinary world. He has hosted events with Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, Todd English and Michael Symon. You can also find him at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Harris is also a highly sought-after auctioneer who lends his comedic style to the auction block raising millions of dollars for charitable causes. Billy donates his time to Share Our Strength, The New York Food Bank, and The Mario Batali Foundation.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Barbuto

Continues to be a favorite for both locals and visitors, who enjoy the restaurant’s casual sophistication and neighborhood feel. The restaurant occupies an airy garage space on the ground floor of Industria Superstudios on Washington Street, between Jane and West 12th Streets. The simple décor and open kitchen add to the restaurant’s warm and inviting feel. Adele’s restaurant in Nashville, named after Chef Waxman’s late mother, features an open kitchen with a large fireplace grill, wood-burning oven, white quarter-sawn oak bar, and chef’s counter. The menu at Adele’s focuses on seasonal, accessible comfort food sourced from local farms and purveyors. Brezza Cucina boasts Waxman’s strong Italian and new American influences while incorporating exciting bold and southern flavors.

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