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The Gift of Giving

Roberto Donna

A recognized chef and restaurateur, Roberto Donna is known as the Ambassador of Italian Cuisine and as someone who makes giving back to his community a priority. Donna is in the business of feeding people—whether it's in one of his 12 unique Washington, D.C. restaurants, or at a local food bank. With the holiday season now upon us, Chef Donna shares his thoughts with FoodFit on the spirit of giving.

FoodFit   In terms of cooking, community, and sharing meals and memories together, what significance do the holidays have for you?
CHEF DONNA:   Food really all goes back to tradition for me. That's what it's all about—even if I'm working on a new recipe, I'll incorporate it into a traditional dish, many of which stem from my family's own recipes or those of the region I'm from in Italy—Terino in the Piedmont region. Each region can have a different interpretation of the same dish. Piedmontese recipes stir quite a few memories for me.

FoodFit   What kind of charitable events have you participated in during past holiday seasons?


  Since the very beginning, I've felt that it was important to give back to the community, participating in charity events and working with organizations throughout the city and nationwide. Rather than advertising, I've always put money back into the community, as they've always given back to me.

I've participated in local charities such as the DC Central Kitchen, Food and Friends (providing food to people living with HIV/AIDS) and Share our Strength (SOS), which started here in Washington. When Billy and Debbie Shore started SOS and Taste of the Nation 11 years ago, I was one of the first in a group of chefs who really went out and participated. Though they've now grown nationally, my support is no less and they've always been there for me in turn. Locally, I've really identified with DC Central Kitchen and have tried to give back to it. Robert Eggert started DC Central Kitchen with the idea of recycling food from restaurants and feeding homeless and hungry individuals. I've even dressed as Santa Claus and given out food with DC Central Kitchen.

FoodFit   Do you have anything planned for the holidays this year?


  This year, I think will be a bit more low profile than others in the past. Along with Michelle Richard, I'm going to the James Beard House and putting on a dinner—a Black and White Truffle Dinner—on December 4th. The dinners are a donation to the James Beard Foundation—another organization that's very important to me. The James Beard Foundation celebrates the culinary arts, provides scholarships and educational opportunities and serves as a resource for the food industry.

FoodFit   How has September 11 affected you and your charity work?



I think this holiday season is going to be more important to everyone. For me, it will probably mean being at the restaurant more. I've been in this business quite a long time—Galileo just celebrated its 17th anniversary. I really want to welcome customers into the restaurant and be part of it. Since September 11th, I've certainly spent more time in the restaurant, although I have done some charity events and traveling. At all other times however, I've spent most of my time here, up to 18 hours a day because that's just what you have to do.

The contingent of big name chefs working with charitable organizations has really grown in Washington, DC over the past decade. Ten or 12 years ago, there was only a concentrated group of "anchors", Jean Louis Palladin, Bob Kinkead, Jeffery Buben, Greggory Hill and myself. Now the group has grown and it says something about the importance of giving back to the community. It's a wonderful phenomenon. It's very important to be out there with the people who support us.

FoodFit   How do you suggest others get involved in helping charities, whether by volunteering their time or making a financial contribution?

Every charity, whether it's the March of Dimes, St. Jude's Hospital, the organizations mentioned earlier...everyone needs help right now. My advice is to get in touch with the event coordinator. I can't imagine anyone saying no. Because whether it's pre-event assistance, fundraising, or on-site assistance, there's no doubt that every charity and non-profit organization is struggling right now. There's always a need.

Give back to your community through one of these charitable organizations or find a local group to get involved in:

Share our Strength works to mobilize thousands of individuals in the culinary industry to organize events, host dinners, teach cooking and nutrition classes to low-income families and serve as anti-hunger advocates.

America's Second Harvest is the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization. Through a network of over 200 food banks and food-rescue programs, they distribute food to 26 million hungry Americans each year. Their goal is to end hunger in America.

Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals to people who are homebound and/or disabled. Meals on Wheels seeks to provide the best quality food and nutrition for the lowest price to its clients.


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