In my travels to Charleston over the past few months, I’ve learned about the many wonderful things The Holy City has to offer—amazing history, fabulous shopping, beautiful beaches, world-class golf courses, and a thriving restaurant scene with some of the best Chefs in the southeast. In fact, many of them have received the prestigious James Beard Foundation's award for Best Chef Southeast. Yes, they are famous for their award-winning dishes that are the talk of locals and visitors alike, but they are also known for giving back to the community that has been so good to them. On a beautiful summer night in June, ten of Charleston’s Top Chefs donated their time, talents and some of their best recipes to Big Chef Little Chef, an event that benefits Louie’s Kids. Louie’s Kids is an organization that raises funds to help treat childhood obesity, which afflicts 25 million American children today.
In memory of his father, Louis Yuhasz founded Louie’s Kids in 2001. This outstanding organization is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity through behavioral change, education, and physical activity. The program caters to economically disadvantaged children and has helped make lasting, positive changes throughout the Lowcountry.
It was just three years ago that Louis wanted to create an event that paired the Chefs in town with Louie’s Kids participants for a one-of-a-kind type of event that would raise awareness and funds for Louie’s Kids. And presto—Big Chef Little Chef was born. Back in 2008, Louis stirred up from scratch his best recipe yet. Over the last few years, this unique creation has been passed around and has become the perfect dish for Charlestonians to enjoy—
-pair one professional Chef together with one Little Chef, a Louie’s Kids program participant
-mix in a little one-on-one culinary training with a focus on healthy cooking
-simmer until the perfect recipe has been concocted
-whisk in some fabulous community sponsors
-add a beautiful sunset evening at the historic Lowndes Grove Plantation on the Ashley River
-blend some live music by Sons of Summer
Infuse all these together for an inspiring evening of healthy cooking, community, and raising funds that will help Louie’s Kids Team help Charleston’s youth improve their health.
With their recipes in hand and a combined weight loss of 250 pounds achieved as a result of participation in either Louie’s Kids Fit Club or Run Buddies program, these Little Chefs couldn’t wait to put their new found nutritional knowledge to use. They teamed up with their Big Chefs to create the perfect healthy dish that would delight the palate of the foodies who would vote for the ultimate winner of the coveted Louie’s Kids Cutting Board prize and of course, bragging rights!
Any Chef will tell you that prep time is a very important part of the cooking process. That is why the Little Chefs each spent several “days in the kitchen” with the Big Chefs to learn about everything one would need to know to create that scrumptious healthy dish. To spread awareness of the event, a few of the Big Chef Little Chef Teams even represented Louie’s Kids with appearances on local television stations for a practice run of preparing their dish. What an amazing experience for these kids, mostly from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to have the opportunity to learn from some of the best Chefs in town!
Through their culinary mentor, the dishes of these Little Chefs didn’t disappoint as Louie’s Kids supporters visited the tables for a taste (or maybe two) of each culinary creation. Just a few of the delicious items on the menu were Vegetarian Lasagna, Orange Chili Glazed Shrimp with Local Butterbean, Corn, Broccoli Rab Succotash, A Party in your Mouth (Watermelon, Arugula, Calamari in a vinaigrette), Avocado Chocolate Pudding and Chilled Local Summer Vegetable Minestrone. I must admit—I wish I could have voted for more than one! Although I was a little reluctant to try the Avocado Chocolate Pudding because I don’t like Avocado, I couldn’t say no to Little Chef Chelsea as she “sold” me on the fabulous dish. Not only had she honed her culinary skills, she had honed her “selling” skills as well (although, I suspect she might have had those skills for most of her life as she exuded personality to everyone that she talked to this evening). Low and behold, not only did I like it, I loved it and returned for a second serving. It was, after all, a very healthy and small portion. As we learned at the end of the evening, I wasn’t the only person who liked Chef Michelle and Chef Chelsea’s Chocolate Avocado Pudding best—they were named Big Chef Little Chef 2011 and presented with the Louie’s Kids Cutting Board!
As the virtual kitchens were closing and the clean up began, the beautiful evening on the Ashley River ended with event funds being raised to support the programs that are helping Charleston’s youth get healthy. During a recent visit to Charleston, I had the opportunity to meet several kids from Jerry Zucker Middle School who had completed Fit Club, a custom tailored program that incorporates ongoing support in an after-school environment to fight childhood obesity. The 16 week plan includes nutritional education; a daily regimen of physical activity; family engagement; weekly group therapy sessions with a contracted clinician; and meetings at the school for encouragement and support for approximately six hours per week. It was so inspiring to hear them talk about their plans to “stay on course” during the summer months—all because of what they had gained and lost (a lot a weight) through their experience with Louie’s Kids.
As the Official Airline of Louie’s Kids, Southwest Airlines is proud to support an organization that is passionate about helping the youth of Charleston fight obesity, one child at a time. Thank you to all the wonderful Charleston Chefs who volunteered their time to support this event—Michelle Weaver from Charleston Grill, Ken Vedrinski of Lucca, Marc Collins from Circa 1886, Cary Zapatka from Square Onion, Craig Deihl from Cypress, John Zucker of Cru Café, Sean Brock of Husk, Ben Berryhill from Red Drum, John Ondo from Lana and Nico Rome of FISH.
Finally, Congrats to all the Little Chefs for inspiring us to live a healthy life. The combined weight loss you have achieved is truly inspiring to everyone who had the opportunity to meet you at Big Chef Little Chef. To Big Chef Michelle and Little Chef Chelsea—enjoy that cutting board! Use it to cut up those local homegrown vegetables from the Lowcountry. And because Chef Michelle and Chef Chelsea shared their recipe with me, I’m going to share it with you. It’s so easy that I think even I can make it!