Fundraising with Flavor: A Taste of Hope

This same time last year, Frederik Meijer Gardens opened its doors to some of West Michigan’s top culinary experts for a cooking competition and charity drive called “Taste of Hope.” This fundraiser was just one of the many different galas that the American Cancer Society hosts each year, appearing in other large markets like New York City and Chicago. Impressively, last year’s inaugural event raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Susan Brogger, associate director of development for the American Cancer Society in Michigan, believes they can surpass this.

“I think what we put together last year was just phenomenal,” Brogger said. “People have been waiting for year two, and we are almost sold out. That’s pretty impressive this far ahead of the event date.”

There are plenty of volunteers under Brogger contribute toward the event and help turn it into a success. They did this last fall in their first year for Grand Rapids, and Brogger is optimistic that they’ll have perfected all logistics by the time the event rolls around on November 6. With 60 individuals working all around the Frederik Meijer Gardens main ballroom space, as well as some 60 more assisting the chef participants, either through the Taste of Hope’s master chef in-kind sponsor Culinary Cultivations or from each chef’s own personal team, this year’s fundraiser will surely be an over-the-top dining experience fit for some of the most creative culinary minds in our state.

“It is certainly the event people don’t want to miss, it’s the room you want to be in,” Brogger said. “Outside of knowing that you’re helping provide critical life saving funds, you are also getting the opportunity to learn about a new chef in the area.”

At the end of the day, this is also a competition. The majority of the awards will be allocated via a panel of judges, but there is also a prestigious People’s Choice award. After trying each meal, attendees can decide on their favorite and vote right from their table. After each score is tallied and all awards have been given out, a “Top Chef” will be named and celebrated at the end of the event.

There are many familiar faces returning from last year’s roster, including reigning Top Chef Bryan Nader from Trinity Health. Chef Bryan’s expertise lies in creating healthy, sustainable meals for patients at Trinity that are not only great tasting but great for you. Other well-known participants from the local Grand Rapids area include Chef Stephan VanHeulen from MDRD and Chef Phong Nguyen from Monsoon GR, the latter having only worked as a chef for eight years now. Even so, these three chefs deliver unique dining experiences to their regular customers and patrons, and now attendees for Taste of Hope will have a chance to enjoy an exclusive setting in which they, too, can try new, original dishes.

“Being able to go to an event and enjoy yourself but raise money for a worthy cause is always a benefit,” said Shawn Kohlhaas, culinary and competition chair for Taste of Hope. “On top of that, you get to experience all of these awesome foods.”

Kohlhaas and others at Culinary Cultivations have helped prepare this fundraiser as an experimental dining setting with many different dishes to try, but the venue itself is also a standout. The Frederik Meijer Gardens main ballroom and its surrounding features will be transformed into a beautiful scene that elevates the event to the next level.

“It’s one of the premier spaces in the Grand Rapids area,” Kohlhaas said. “Everywhere you’re looking there’s something interesting. You can actually be in the event, you can walk down the hallway, you can visit the tropical forest. There are a lot of cool different areas that you can visit.”

A live auction is also planned for each chef participant to take part in, offering their talents in creating a five-course private meal for whomever bids the highest. More prizes await those who are eager to donate toward a worthy cause and support West Michigan’s regional top chefs.

“You can’t just go into MDRD and hire Chef Stephan or into Monsoon and hire Chef Phong,” Kohlhaas said. “The opportunity to just be able to bid on them, to get a private event and experience, in itself is very rare.”

Taste of Hope is a celebration of excellent dining service in the greater Grand Rapids area, as well as an initiative to propel philanthropy forward in funding regional cancer research. All funds raised at this gala and future ones like it will always benefit those Michiganders who most immediately need it, and the enthusiastic event organizers who lead it are especially proud of this.

“Cancer touches everyone’s lives in one way or another,” Kohlhaas said. “It’s a personal mission to do this competition and raise these funds to help end cancer.”

Taste of Hope
Frederik Meijer Gardens
Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m.