Interview: Chicago’s Best Chefs Fight Childhood Hunger This Thursday

Chef Zachary Engel of Galit.
Photo by Sandy Noto.

Chef and co-owner Zachary Engel of Lincoln Park's Galit is cooking up their number one crowd pleaser (hummus!) for No Kid Hungry's Taste of the Nation event to help raise money for a cause he's passionate about. Chef Engel and many other Chicago top chefs will be offering bites and cocktails throughout the evening. Not only can you taste many Michelin-starred and James-Beard-awarded chefs' meals all in one place, but it all goes to a fundamental cause. Each dollar of your ticket price provides up to 10 meals for kids in need.

At last year's event, Chef Engel teamed up with Top Chef runner up (season 19), Evelyn Garcia and her restaurant Jun (Houston). Their collaborative dish was such a hit, Chef Engel and his team are replicating it with their own spin this year.

"We are going to be doing some of our hummus and our wood-fired pita, with some wood-roasted spring vegetables and Chalula vinaigrette. We cook other things but when we go to an event and we don’t bring hummus, people always ask where is the hummus," Chef Engel said. "Especially at an event like this a lot of the times there is not a vegan or vegetarian option, I always like to offer a really fun and lighter vegan-friendly option."

Chef Engel has been involved with the No Kid Hungry organization since since Galit's opening in 2019. It should come as no surprise that his generosity would transcend feeding people at prix fix menu prices. The restaurant focuses just as much on hospitality as it does on company culture.

"We have a bunch of core values that surround how we operate every day in our restaurant, they all apply to the mission that No Kid Hungry has, community, respect, education. We are accountable to our community and we support them," Chef Engel said. "All throughout as an organization what they really do is so fundamental to our society, to how our society has a chance to continue positively. If we are neglecting these kids during their development and not giving them the basic needs to be successful we are creating despair and stress and are not allowing them to just be kids."

Hummus dishes at Galit. Photo by Sandy Noto.

Chef Engel makes sure that his team connects with the people and issues that matter especially in the industry they work in. Their education goes beyond food trends, ingredients, and flavors; the team at Galit understands that their role goes further than someone's evening out enjoying a good meal. There is focus on equity and food systems and what more they can be doing as chefs and restaurateurs.

"I want to show them an example of things that are important to pay attention to in our current food system landscape, how to really support other people, even people who you don’t engage with," Chef Engel said.

For Chef Engel, it's a no brainer. No Kid Hungry asks and he is there. With one in five kids in the US living with hunger, the need extends even after the event and so does Chef Engel's efforts to make sure communities are receiving the support and resources they need to provide three meals a day to kids every day.

"The message of no kid hungry rings true for a lot of chefs, the idea of making sure that people are well fed. Not only is this event important to raise money, but they also involve us in lobbying efforts in Illinois and DC. I've been on calls with Congressman and Senators' offices talking about different issues particularly COVID, feeding kids over summer when there is no school, and continuing the funding," Chef Engel said. "For us it's not just about this event, it's about being a part of that whole mission, there is a huge amount of buy-in from that community and some of the big names in Chicago like Chef Joe Flamm, winner of Top Chef (season 15), we are here because we believe in the cause so strongly, everyone brings it, we are all putting out top of our game food for the night and having a great time."

General admission tickets are still available for this Thursday's Taste of the Nation event at Rockwell on the River.

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Caroline Huftalen

Caroline L. Huftalen is the food editor at Third Coast Review and columnist behind Dear Cinnamon. Her reviews and interviews can also be seen on Huftalen is the founder of Survivors Project, Inc. which raises awareness for domestic violence by sharing stories of survival. A graduate of the University at Buffalo and the Savannah College of Art of Design. Huftalen lives in Chicago with her family and is currently writing a novel.