Giving Back: Chicago Philanthropy at Its Finest

Alison Holmes

Mindy Segal Preparing for an Event

Dining at a gourmet restaurant may be a special occasion for some, but for others, simply having a hot meal can be a challenge. Mindy Segal, Owner and Executive Chef of the wildly popular restaurant Hot Chocolate, has proven that she has a passion for more than just food; she has a passion for helping others. When Hot Chocolate opened in 2005, Segal held her first Taste of the Nation fundraiser, the main platform benefiting Share Our Strength, a national non-profit organization that is working to end childhood hunger. It seems great food not only brings people together, but also helps those in need. And Mindy Segal’s philanthropic efforts don’t end there. She has recently begun efforts to leave a mark of her own on the fight against hunger.

What made you decide to really get involved with your community and community organizations?

Last year I decided I was at a point in my career, that I needed to not only make a difference in my community, but that I wanted to focus my time and attention to one organization. And I’ve chosen Share Our Strength to be it. It’s a very big, national organization that’s been around for 25 years. It was founded by Billy Shore and his sister Debbie Shore. They are really in the platform of ending childhood hunger in many different ways. Their beneficiaries are non-profit organizations that educate, that give food stamps and that are health clinics…they do it in many different ways.

It’s pretty impressive for a non-profit organization to be around that long. How do they do it?

One of the ways they do it, is they have a national benefit every year called Taste of the Nation, and it was the first tasting event of its kind in this country. He [Billy Shore] came up with this concept that chefs cook, they understand food…and what better way to connect food and hunger, but through chefs?

Absolutely, but how do they choose who gets the funding?

Each city’s Taste of the Nation benefits people in the local area. So it’s not like the money goes back to corporate headquarters and then its disbursed. We know exactly who we’re giving the money to. The proceeds for the event go towards funding Taste of the Nation. I’ve met all the beneficiaries, I’ve gone to all the places…I know who they are. And I am the chair for Taste of the Nation in Chicago. I’m also on the national council for Share Our Strengths, and I was also chef/restaurateur for 2009 for Share Our Strengths.

Share Our Strength Advertisement

I took Taste of the Nation, which was dying in Chicago…the benefit was dying. They only raised $30,000 two years ago and we raised $150,000 last year. I revamped the platform and started from scratch…and now we have a template for a very, very, very good benefit on a yearly basis. So this year it’s August 12th, at the Aragon Ballroom. It’s a big job, but it’s such a good cause.

Pretty impressive.  Tell me more about the fundraiser that you host here in Chicago at Hot Chocolate.

There’s always a theme. Last year it was beer chefs…chefs who have beer-friendly restaurants. And the whole concept of how I started this dinner…was that I thought it would be really cool to ask a bunch of chefs who were into beer…and they would each take a course, then I would pair them with a brewer and together they would create a pairing. It connects the chef to the brewer and it connects the brewer to the food.

I heard a rumor that you had a star-studded line up for this year’s chefs.

Well, this year it’s very special. I put together a list of all the chefs that I would want to be pastry chef for…and they all said yes. We had Bill Kim [Le Lan] who’s a very dear friend of mine…my chef [Aric Miech] who of course I’m the pastry chef for…my mentor Michael Kornick [Mk Restaurant]…Paul Kahn [Blackbird]…Paul Virant [Vie], and Rick Bayless [Frontera Grill]. I would love to be any of their pastry chefs. This is what I do. This is what I am. So I’m really committed.

I’m also working on starting another program, that’s actually through Operation Frontline, which is one of our beneficiaries [through Share Our Strength]. They teach families and people that immigrate here how to cook with food stamps, naturally and with whole products. And they try to teach people the understanding of the food chain. It’s a great program.

Segal Skinning Apples

Yes. I’m starting it this year…it’s going to be in October. And I’m starting it in Chicago, but then we’re going to take it nationwide. It’s gonna to be called An Apple a Day…it’s pastry chefs, once a year through Operation Frontline, that are going to bus inner-city kids—and people that are part of Operation Frontline—to an apple orchard. We’re gonna have the farmer take them on a tour of the farm, pick some apples, and then we’re going to go back to Operation Frontline and we’re gonna make apple sauce, apple pie and apple crumbles…so they can see what you can do with a raw product. Most people don’t know…they don’t know where apples come from. These kids eat junk food…they have no idea. We’re going to be teaching people how to do this.

What does the future look like for Mindy Segal?

Well, I opened up a restaurant so I could have an avenue for my creativity. I thought that opening up a restaurant…a full service restaurant…from the eyes of a pastry chef is interesting, because we’re detail focused. Since I had been working with a lot of really great chefs, and I saw a lot of really great food go out in my career I thought that I could interpret the things I had seen and learned throughout my years in my career, [and put that] into my restaurant to help others.

[Now] I’m really refocusing what I do for a living because I think it’s important. And my restaurant is doing very well and I think that it’s important to give back. And I love it. And I’m very happy, it’s very rewarding.

For more information on Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation, please visit:

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