Food Network's Ted Allen talks about Dining Out for Life

Chopped host Ted Allen is a spokesperson for the restaurant fundraiser to fight HIV/AIDS
Chopped host Ted Allen is a spokesperson for the restaurant fundraiser to fight HIV/AIDS
Peter Ross

This Thursday more than 180 restaurants around the Twin Cities will take part in a national fundraiser to help raise money and awareness for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Dining Out for Life is an annual event in which restaurants from across the country donate a portion of their evening's proceeds to local HIV/AIDS-related charities. Twin Cities restaurants are donating anywhere from 20 to 100 percent of the evening's profits.

One of Dining Out for Life's celebrity spokespeople is Ted Allen, the Emmy Award-winning host of the Food Network's hit TV show Chopped. Allen has also served as a judge on the Food Network's Iron Chef America and Bravo's Top Chef, and he is the author of The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes. The Hot Dish recently talked with Allen about the national dine-out event.

The Hot Dish: First, can you tell us a little about Dining Out for Life? Ted Allen: Dining Out for Life is something that I really enjoy supporting because it's such a perfect fit for anybody that loves food, loves restaurants, loves chefs, and wants to do something for their community.

So, one day a year hundreds of restaurants in 60-something cities all over the United States donate a portion of their proceeds to the fight against HIV and AIDS. What's great about it is that they donate exclusively to organizations right in your own town. So all you have to do -- and this happens this Thursday, the 25th -- is go to, look at the list of restaurants that are participating, pick one of your favorites, or maybe even better, pick a new place you want to try, and just go have dinner with your friends. It's the same regular price. You might be encouraged to have dessert or a nice bottle of wine, and the restaurant will donate a portion of those proceeds to HIV and AIDS organizations right in your own town, helping your neighbors, helping your relatives, helping your friends. It's such an elegant fundraiser. It raises over $4 million in a single day.

HD: How did you get involved with Dining Out for Life? Allen: Well, they asked me. Five years ago, and for all the reasons I just explained, how could I say no? I always say that the real heroes in the fight against HIV are of course the people who are health care workers, activists, volunteers, and people who devote their whole lives to this, but not everybody can do that. You're a reporter, a lot of people are schoolteachers, police officers, plumbers, or whatever, but anybody can do this. We all have to eat, and all you have to do is grab a couple of friends and go out to dinner and you're making a really meaningful contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS right in your own town, and I think that's amazing. You can say, 'Oh, my gosh, I should be doing more," but you know what, the people that organize this are setting it up to make it possible for everybody to do something with the limited time that you have, and the payoff is enormous.

HD: So according to the literature, over 3,000 restaurants across the country participate in Dining Out for Life. Doing some quick math, that gives us an average of over $1,300 per restaurant. Allen: Yeah, that's pretty cool. I mean, there are big restaurants and there are small restaurants, but for a restaurant to come up with that kind of a donation in one evening, for a lot of restaurants that's a really big deal.

HD: Do you know where all that money goes? What kinds of charities receive the funds? Allen: Yeah, it typically goes to groups that provide meals to people who are ill or groups that provide testing to people that need to be tested. It all kind of depends on the specific needs in your city. For a long time the face of HIV/AIDS was changing from, of course, when this first happened in the '80s, it was perceived as a gay white male disease, and it predominately was. Then as the gay community rose up and dealt with it and got into prevention, especially when treatments were discovered, the demographics shifted more to woman of color and people who were in poverty. However, you know, we're also kind of victims of our own success here when you see a whole new generation of young gay men who didn't see this first plague, and infections are on the rise in that demographic now too. As they used to say in the early '90s, the AIDS crisis is not over. I think that this effort is important to not only raise money but to also get the word out to that audience that you still need to be careful.

HD: Okay, one last fun one for the road. What's been one of your most interesting experiences hosting the Food Network's Chopped? Allen: I don't want to give away the results of any of the episodes, even though there are so many that you're not going to remember, but we shot an episode with teenagers. We had kids ranging from 12 years old to I want to say 17, and the dessert that ended up winning was from one of these kids that wasn't even old enough to work yet, and it was the absolute best dessert that we've ever had in the history of the show. It was amazing, and it's just constantly surprising.

For more information on the event and for a list of local participating restaurants, go to Dining Out for Life's Twin Cities website. In Minneapolis/St. Paul the money raised will be donated to the Aliveness Project, a local organization that provides food services for individuals with HIV/AIDS, and the Rural AIDS Action Network, which provides educational and health management services.

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