Event aims to raise funds to combat hunger

International Tasting Gala

6 p.m. Nov. 21

Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines

10950 N. Torrey Pines Road,

La Jolla

(858) 450-4521

The International Tasting Gala on Nov. 21 will raise funds for the San Diego Food Bank’s Adopt-a-Chef program, which is being piloted by the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines

and has hopes of becoming a statewide program to battle hunger.

In the program, 27 San Diego-area Hilton chefs will each adopt a low-income school and teach students and their parents how to cook low-cost nutritious meals and grow a school garden. It will also feature an after-school Healthy Kids Cooking Club and a “restaurant night” where students invite their families for dinner one evening for a healthy meal prepared by the students.

“When we reported our statistics in the summer, Hilton saw the huge increase in need in San Diego County and they decided to take action,” said Chris Carter, director of communications at the San Diego Food Bank. “They met with us, they said, ‘What can we do?’ They got so energized they said, ‘We need to raise money for you. We want to provide you with a million meals.’ So that’s how the idea for this Gala Tasting event got off the ground.”

The 27 participating chefs will be at the gala, which is being held at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, and each of them will be preparing a unique dish from a different culture. A portion of the proceeds will also fund the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, which provides nutritious snacks in backpacks on Fridays to children who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

“We feel that we can write a check for a million dollars and it will help. But it won’t help long-term, so we want to try to be part of the vessel to communicate in the community, part of the opportunity for change,” said Ewell Sterner, who is the director of food and beverage at the La Jolla Hilton.

The Hilton hotels created the group Hunger at Home, which is dedicated to combating hunger.

The Adopt-a-Chef program will be piloted at King Chavez Preparatory Academy, where 100 percent of the students qualify for free school meals.

“We’re going to use all the lessons from that to start the program officially in January of 2009 at the 27 different low-income schools around the county,” Carter said.

One plate at the gala, which costs $250, will provide 750 meals in the community. Hilton hopes to raise $500,000. All food not consumed at the event will go into a refrigerated truck and go to soup kitchens and shelters. A portion of the proceeds will also go to the San Diego Food Bank and the Network for a Healthy California, a statewide organization in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is dedicated to health and nutrition education for low-income families.

Hunger affects 480,000 San Diego County residents, 181,000 of which are children younger than 12. The problem is expected to worsen with the current economic crisis.

The gala will also have an auction and entertainment will be provided by the band Brookwood Split.