Many charity events raising money to fight hunger offer an attractive event to draw in benefactors, possibly a lavish dinner or fun night on the town. Chefs Cycle is different. The three-day event, now its third year, is a 300-mile cycling event that will take place May 16—18 in Santa Rosa, California. Not only are the chefs and other restaurant professionals committing to a personal fundraising goal of $7,500 each to benefit No Kid Hungry, but they are taking on a huge personal and physical challenge.
“It’s definitely a leveler even within the chefs world,” says Heidi Gibson, co-owner of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, who joined Chefs Cycle last year with her business partner Nate Pollak. “There are some pretty big names along on the ride, and just getting to spend some time talking with them was great. Some of the people who came out had never done anything remotely like that.”
Gibson says that while last year’s participants were predominately from California, she also met people from New Hampshire, Colorado, Texas, and even Australia.
Gibson says that the ride—100 miles a day for three consecutive days—is very intense. Last year, participants rode from Monterey down to Santa Barbara. This year it is “all based around Napa,” she says. “We’re doing three different routes around Santa Rosa each day.”
She is a long-distance runner and cyclist who has twice completed the AIDS/LifeCycleride along the California coast.
The inaugural Chefs Cycle ride in the summer of 2015 drew 30 total riders that split 300-mile rides on the East and West Coast and raised $300,000 for No Kid Hungry. In 2016, 124 riders on the West Coast ride raised $1,050,000—a totalthat could double this year with 263 committed riders. “I wish there was a way for the public to participate,” Gibson says. “I suspect people would be into it.”
Chefs Cycle certainly unites different restaurant professionals in supporting an important cause connected to their industry, and it does allow them to interface and meet new people.
This year will be the first Chefs Cycle for Field Failing, founder, and managing partner of Fields Good Chicken in New York. He is looking forward to the mission of the event as well as connecting with restaurant peers with “similar values and similar mindsets,” Failing says. “The restaurant industry is a small community, and getting to meet people who are using their interests in the industry for good is always great.”
Failing worked in finance before quitting to try cycle racing professionally, and he held night jobs at restaurants to pay his bills. “I’ve always had this love of food and love of cycling,” Failing says. “I always want to do whatever I can to help others, and the restaurant is a big part in that. But really what did it for me is the opportunity to help kids in need and people who can’t afford to pay for their own meals. It’s great that we [Fields] provide healthier food for New Yorkers who can afford to pay $10—$12 for lunch, but that doesn’t really help people who can’t afford to pay for their meal. This is a way to be able to bridge that gap and help people in need.”
Nate Pollak, co-owner of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, says that despite how the chef lifestyle is romanticized on food programs, it is very challenging. “You’re on your feet all day, and you’re working under fluorescent lights in the kitchen for hours and hours on end, so to get on a bike is a really big deal,” Pollak says. “To the culinary community, being able to take off a few days and go ride and do it for a cause that is helping both food and children is really something special. I don’t ride very much, and I was inspired to do it. It was just a mind-blowing activity, and painful if you’re not a rider, but it’s a really special event to be a part of. There’s great camaraderie. You get to meet the children.”
Given how much cycling the riders have to do, they build up a hearty appetite, and luckily their talented culinary peers can feed them along the way. Gibson recalls how a barbecue chef last year had some tasty items prepared for the riders at the end.
“It’s one of the few times in our existence where people are serving us, and it’s fun to enjoy it,” Pollak says. “We’re kind of unique because we’re from the [quick-service] sector, and many of the chefs on the ride are from finer dining and larger management companies, so we’re able to swap our stories with them. This year we’re going to be the finish line treat. We’ll be serving several hundred chefs and volunteers fresh grilled cheese at the end of this great accomplishment. And they deserve it.”