On May 3rd, 2018, Chef Michael White was honored at Project Sunshine’s 15th Annual Benefit at Cipriani’s 42nd Street This evening’s fundraiser raised over $1mm. Project Sunshine recruits and trains volunteers to deliver programs that promote creative expression, socialization, and intellectual stimulation to children facing medical challenges in 175 cities across the US and in 4 international satellite locations.
The evening was hosted by Sesame Street actor, Emilio Delgado, who was joined by former cast mates Roscoe Orman, Bob McGrath and Sonia Manzano for a live rendition of Bienvenidos to open the evening.
Later into the programing guests were treated to an intimate set by Grammy nominated Singer-Songwriter Tori Kelly, who performed an acoustic version of Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.
This year’s honorees included Stella Li, President of BYD Motors Inc., recipient of the Business Leadership Award and Chef Michael White, Head Chef & Co-Owner of Altamarea Group, recipient of the Visionary Award. “This year Project Sunshine is excited to honor Chef Michael White, an outstanding culinary talent. We celebrate his work to encourage pediatric patients and their families to make healthy food choices through Project Sunshine’s “Better Bites” program,” said Joe Weilgus, Project Sunshine Founder. “We are equally thrilled to award Stella Li for her commitment to being an architect of the Project Sunshine Healthy Living A.B.C.’s program.May her dedication to building a cleaner, healthier, and brighter, world be an example to us all.”
In addition to a silent auction, the night included live bidding conducted by C. Hugh Hildesley of Sotheby’s, on items such as a Chinatown foodie tour hosted by Andrew Zimmern and two private dinners for 12 at Michael White’s restaurant Vaucluse. ChefWhite personally auctioned off the two dinners, raising over $25,000 for the organization.
As the recipient of the Visionary Award, Chef White is a talented and honorable chef. He works with Project Sunshine in order to help guide pediatric patients and their families to making healthier food choices. We thought our readers would love to get to know Chef White a bit better through a little Q&A:
First, congratulations on being honored. Tell our readers why being honored was so special for you?
It was so special to be honored by such an amazing organization. As a father, I cannot imagine what these families are going through on a daily basis. What Project Sunshine does is truly remarkable and to have them welcome myself and my team at Altamarea Group was truly a privilege and an honor.
Share your involvement with Project Sunshine and when you first started, and why you chose this particular charity?
Joe Weilgus, the founder of Project Sunshine, has been a longtime, dedicated patron of many of my restaurants. Through the years, Altamarea Group has made a number of donations in support of Project Sunshine. However, this year, we came together to build upon the idea of having AMG contribute to the “Better Bites Program.” We are working to start a program in which we will have caretakers learn from our very own chefs in our restaurant kitchens, some of the basics of creating a healthy, affordable meal for their families.
Other than you being honored, what was the highlight of this wonderful evening?
I think the highlight for me would be seeing all of the folks who came out in support of Project Sunshine. The ability to have my wife Giovanna and the Altamarea Group team with me as I went up to accept the award and assist with the auction prizes was really such a wonderful experience.
DTM: Being involved in charities is important. What can you share with our readers who want to get started but do not know the first step?
Chef Michael White: Get out there. Get involved. It is really about making that initial connection with the people you are helping. When I volunteered with Project Sunshine at Brooklyn Hospital this past winter and first spoke with a little boy named Lucas, there was an immediate connection. I was able to see within those first few moments that what I was doing was so important, for him and that made it all worthwhile.
DTM: We love that you help educate families on choosing better when it comes to their food. What can parents do who may not have the luxury of purchasing that healthier snack/food for their child?
Chef Michael White: I always tend to think about what goes into the food. Fresh is always best but we know that sometimes, the freshest vegetables and fruits may not be the most affordable. Therefore, I recommend frozen vegetables or fruits. There are still many nutrients and vitamins, even if they are frozen.
DTM What can we do as a nation to help combat the higher cost of healthier foods?
Education is key. Informing consumers that healthy eating doesn’t need to come at a top expense. Look for products that are in season and in abundance helps drives down cost.
When you live in a space that a garden is an option, plant fruits and vegetables together with your family that you like will use and grow well in the area.
Also important is to look for ways to use every part of an ingredient. For example, bones and shells for stocks, cheese rinds for a richer flavor, stems, and frowns, for additional flavor.
Never let anything spoil. Freeze your dishes made in large quantity, find creative ways to integrate leftover bread, juicing fruits and vegetables that might be close to turning.
DTM: Chef Michael White, you are truly an extraordinary chef. What was it which pushed you towards the culinary world?
Chef Michael White: I always loved to eat and had a passion for trying bold foods and flavors. My father was and is a very avid cook. As I grew up, I began helping him in the kitchen more and more. We would watch Good Morning America together back when Wolfgang Puck would do cooking demonstrations on Fridays. However, it was when I watched Great Chefs that made me realize I wanted a life in a professional kitchen. This led to me moving to Chicago and while working at Spiaggia, experiencing real Italian food for the first time. It changed my life and led me on the path I continue on today.
DTM: What dish is it that your family requests from you at home?
Chef Michael White: A Sunday Sauce is always very common in my house. There is nothing quite like a bowl of fresh pasta with fresh tomato sauce. My daughter Francesca is a huge fan!
DTM: With Altamarea, a world-renowned restaurant group, each restaurant’s cuisine is as superb as the other. Which restaurant is your favorite and why? (getting hungry just thinking about your cuisine!)
Chef Michael White: If I am being honest, I really love all of the restaurants equally, but for different reasons. For example, where Marea and Ai Fiori are fine dinings, Osteria Morini and Nicoletta are more casual. We are able to deliver excellent food, service and great experiences at every end of the spectrum. It isn’t possible to choose just one!
If you are a foodie like most New Yorker’s then you know good food and many great chefs. However, there’s only a handful who stand out, when we think of giving.