Eating for life

21 September 2004
Eating for life

We all know that the UK is a nation of confirmed chocaholics, so hot chocolate fondant on the dessert menu will always get the orders flowing through the pass. But if you could make it good for your customers' souls as well as their taste-buds then you'd be on to the perfect pud, wouldn't you? Well, that is the reckoning at London's Bermondsey Kitchen where, as part of next month's Restaurants Against Hunger Week, the restaurant is pledging 50p from each £4 pudding sold to raise funds for malnourished children and their families in the world's poorest countries - including Sudan, Sierra Leone, Iran and Cambodia.

Restaurants Against Hunger Week is organised by Action Against Hunger, the charity that has helped more than five million vulnerable people in 40 countries around the world since 1979
The annual fundraising week is organised by humanitarian charity Action Against Hunger and is now in its fourth year - although, in fact, restaurants have been supporting the cause for the past eight years. And the restaurant industry is a seriously powerful money-generating force, raising more than £150,000 since it started to support Action Against Hunger and contributing nearly a third of the charity's total private funds. The goal for this year is to raise £50,000 in restaurants up and down the country. Restaurants can go with the theming of "This One's on You" under which banner they can invite their customers to treat a malnourished child or family to a meal, for as little as £1, by adding an optional donation to the bill. Alternatively, they can come up with their own ideas, such as Bermondsey Kitchen's chocolate pud link-up. Tamsin Mitchell, co-ordinator at Action Against Hunger, is all for a bit of lateral thinking. "It's really easy for people to get involved and it's a chance to be a bit creative. It's great if people have got their own fundraising ideas, but if not, we have a few tried-and-tested ones for restaurants to use. And it's not all about big sums of money; every penny helps. £1 can feed a family of four in Africa - that's just 25p each to you and me but it makes all the difference to what we can do." Coming up with specific dishes to highlight the week's objective (you can donate a percentage of the price to the cause) is a popular option. At Signor Valentino's restaurant in Cardiff, for example, donations from its £9.95 "Bam" dish of penne spezzatino have already helped to raise more than £7,000 for victims of last year's Bam earthquake in Iran; while Red Carnation Hotels is making contributions from each special South African menu ordered. Other activities on offer include wine tasting, food and drink auctions and even a sponsored parachute jump. Dela Foster, Bermondsey Kitchen's owner, hopes to raise more than £1,000 from customers' donations. "The puddings have been really popular, and customers like the fact that they're doing something good for somebody else while indulging themselves," she says. "It's not demanding for us to organise, and it's not complicated for the staff. We were concerned that donations would affect tips, but actually people are happy to give money without it making any difference to what they tip." Foster also thinks the restaurant's special Spanish menu of chargrilled regional tapas specialities, which has raised more than £600, attracted new business. "About 90% of our clientele are regulars, but when we hosted Spanish week we got some excellent local press which drew new people in." Restaurant critic and food writer Bill Knott, who has been involved in the campaign since it started seven years ago, agrees that taking part can raise a restaurant's profile. "We hope people get involved out of altruism but it can be good for business too, and customers really enjoy it. And every bit counts - we're as happy to get £20 from a sandwich bar as £2,000 from a Michelin-starred restaurant," he stresses. Fortunately, many of the UK's leading chefs are more than happy to pledge support for Restaurants Against Hunger Week. This year's roll-call includes Rick Stein, Antonio Carluccio, Giorgio Locatelli and 1 Lombard Street's chef-proprietor, Herbert Berger, and his business partner, Soren Jessen. Berger and Jessen will be hosting the gala dinner that has become an integral part of the whole Restaurants Against Hunger week - namely, the turn-the-tables meal, dubbed the Too Many Critics dinner, at which the critics take to the kitchens to cook and the chefs to the dining tables to eat. Locatelli, host of last year's Too Many Critics fundraising gala dinner at his London hot-spot Locanda Locatelli, is keen to do what he can to help. "It's such a good cause and our industry can really make a difference. Aid can sometimes take away people's ability to support themselves but Action Against Hunger is all about getting people to help themselves." Too Many Critics dinner The grand finale of Restaurants Against Hunger Week is the Too Many Critics gala dinner on 17 October. The evening turns the tables on 12 of the UK's most eminent food writers and critics, who switch sides and don whites for the night to cook for 130 of the industry's top chefs, restaurateurs and industry figures. This year, Herbert Berger and Soren Jessen have volunteered to host the event at the Michelin-starred 1 Lombard Street in London. Giorgio Locatelli, host of last year's Too Many Critics at Locanda Locatelli, which raised £20,000, thinks the critics have a tough challenge ahead. "They all worked very hard last year and I was very happy with the standard of the food, but this year, the numbers are higher and it's a very different environment," he says a little ominously! He does, however, plan to be at this year's dinner sampling the cooking of Fay Maschler (London's Evening Standard) Matthew Fort (the Guardian), Jay Rayner (Observer Food Monthly), Kate Spicer (Evening Standard Metro Life), Terry Durack (the Independent), Caroline Stacey (the Independent), Jeremy Wayne (the Guardian and Tatler), Charles Campion (Evening Standard Metro Life) and Jill Dupleix (the Times cook). Rick Stein, who supported Action Against Hunger's BBC Appeal, is a special guest for the evening, while other prominent supporters of the dinner include chef-restaurateur Antonio Carluccio and Claridge's Mark Sargeant, Mark Edwards from Nobu and Jeremy Lee from Blue Print Cafe. Previous successful evenings have been held at the Circus Restaurant & Bar in London, and at the Cinammon Club, London. With food and drink entirely donated by sponsors and supporters, every last penny is able to go directly towards funding relief programmes for the world's hungry. There are 130 tickets, priced at £130 a head, available for the dinner. To reserve places, call Action Against Hunger on 020 7232 0606 or 020 7394 6300 or register at []( Where the money goes In 2003, 670,000 vulnerable people were helped as a direct result of Action Against Hunger UK's fundraising activities. More than 30,000 were malnourished children who received life-saving treatments. Money raised in 2003 by the restaurant industry went towards funding projects including: - Improving access to drinking water for 40,000 vulnerable people in rural parts of Zimbabwe and training of hospitals and 1,500 health staff in the treatment of malnutrition. - Training and latrines provided for pupils and teachers in 12 schools in Cambodia. - 6,500 severely malnourished children treated at 45 new nutrition units set up in Malawi. Since 1979, Action Against Hunger has been helping more than five million vulnerable people in 40 countries around the world. Its international teams have responded to major crises threatening the lives of people around the world in Ethiopia, Kosovo, Southern Africa and Iran. Funds raised go directly to support relief programmes; the charity's audited accounts in 2003 show that 93% of funds were spent providing aid. Getting Involved To receive a free information pack and take part in Restaurants Against Hunger fundraising week, call Action Against Hunger on 020 7232 0606. For further information visit [ If you need a bit of inspiration, here are a few suggestions for raising money. - "This One's on You": Customers are invited to buy a family in a developing country a meal by making a donation when they pay the bill. This can be done in cash in donation envelopes, provided by the charity, or recorded at the till if preferred. - If your restaurant attracts celebrities, ask them to sign a plate for Restaurants Against Hunger. The plates can then be auctioned to raise funds for the charity. - Create a special "Against Hunger" dish for the week and tell customers that a certain amount of the price goes to the charity for each dish ordered. - Donate a percentage of your takings for the week, or for one special evening, to Restaurants Against Hunger. - Match your customers' donations.
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