Special Report | November 2011 | By Milford Prewitt

Wayne Kostroski Goes All In

Taste of the NFL founder hosts one of the biggest parties of the season, all for a good cause.

Wayne Kostroski uses an inspirational epigram to begin each chapter in his recently published memoir of his founding of the Taste of the NFL and its dynamo evolution. None so piercingly speaks to who he is than one by mystery writer Martha Grimes.

In introducing Chapter 7 of Bring Out The Best, Kostroski quotes Grimes: “We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.”

That in a nutshell says it all about Kostroski, a man who time and time again tackles the seemingly insurmountable and uses goodwill and professional camaraderie to fight hunger.

Kostroski’s boundless humanitarianism in the face of awesome odds has been driven by the fear of letting others down, especially food banks, hunger-relief groups, and nutritional-awareness nonprofits that have seen their donations nosedive in recent years.

Take the work stoppage and player lockout threat that might have killed the 2011 professional football season, and by extension, the Super Bowl; or more to the point, Kostroski’s masterstroke of good will, the Taste of the NFL (TNFL).

If the most hellish acts of man and nature have not stopped Kostroski and his die-hard volunteer celebrities and big-hearted lesser-knowns in the past, why should anyone have suspected that a mere labor dispute between billionaire team owners and millionaire football players would have?

He’s done it before when naysayers or current events cast doubt on his ability to bring hundreds of chefs, athletes, and restaurateurs, all of whom travel on their own dime to the Super Bowl host city to work for free in staging one of the most lavish, widely supported, and beloved hunger relief fundraisers in the nation.

Wayne Kostroski and his James Beard Humanitarian of the Year (2010) Award

Lest anyone doubt Kostroski’s resolve, consider that in spite of the hysteria and intrusive airport-security procedures that made flying a grueling chore in the months after September 11, 2001, the TNFL in Super Bowl host city New Orleans that season was among the series’ most emotional and memorable.

Or consider TNFL’s staging at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, for Super Bowl XLIV when the New Orleans Saints won their first world championship in 2010, just five years after the Crescent City experienced the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.

Or more recently, consider how major big-brand sponsors that had supported TNFL to the hilt are now using the past three years of the Great Recession as an excuse to cut their philanthropic ties to Kostroski.

So should anyone have feared that a little tempest in football would have undone what Kostroski and his band of followers have done for 20 years?

For this season's Super Bowl, the party will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, the architecturally striking convention center and entertainment canyon that is the home field of the Indianapolis Colts, on Saturday, February 4, 2012.

“You know, it’s a good question you raise about the lockout,” he says. “But it’s one I’ve been asked a number of times, and all I can say is every few years something huge comes down the pike that may have an impact on what we do.

“Whether it was Sept. 11 and we still went forward, or Hurricane Katrina and now this God-awful economy when some of our major backers are slashing their support. In all of those cases we went forward,” he says. “So we are moving 100 percent with our plans, trying to help feed people, raising awareness about hunger and trying to educate struggling families on good nutrition and how to stretch the food budget and the food they buy.”

A celebrated chef, savvy businessman, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, humanitarian, and now author, Kostroski has an inventory of industry awards, peer accolades, humanitarian plaudits, and academic and culinary honors that would fill a page in print.

Kostroski, who lives with his wife and three children in Edina, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb, seems not to know an idle moment.

When he is not on the phone rallying his supporters and colleagues, giving press interviews, or making speeches about nutrition and philanthropy, Kostroski is the co-owner of Cuisine Concepts, a multiunit dinnerhouse group and bakery based in Minneapolis.

Mark Haugen, Kostroski’s close friend whom he hired 25 years ago and who has become a business partner and corporate chef at Cuisine Concepts, says that knowing his friend the way he does, failing to hold the event was not an option.

In his book, Kostroski suggests that his blessings of good health, marriage to his best friend for 28 happy years, three loving children, a long friendship and partnership with Haugen, and a thriving business come with the responsibility to help others.

“Beyond family and friends, the blessing I am most grateful for, however, is that of somehow being introduced to the mindset that one must be involved in life to achieve a truer level of happiness and satisfaction,” he writes. “Yeah, I get it, the usual expressions of making a difference, being part of the team, giving back, etc., have resonated with me; but it actually is true! The more you give, the more you get back.”

He is the face, the magnet and biggest cheerleader of TNFL, which, over 20 years has raised about $10 million for hunger relief by staging one of the universe’s grandest parties the Saturday night before the big game, usually in the host city’s stadium.

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