Athletes, celebrities and culinary giants gathered Saturday night at the 26th Annual Party with a Purpose to raise money for the Kick Hunger campaign. Sponsored by Taste of the NFL, the event is the largest charity effort that the NFL participates in each year.
Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, along with Richard Blais (winner of Top Chef All-Stars) and Alex Guarnaschelli (recurring Chopped judge), co-hosted the evening, which drew a crowd of nearly 3,000 to the 80,000 square feet of pavilion space on the University of Houston campus.
To date, Party with a Purpose has raised more than $25 million to fight hunger and food insecurities, providing more than 200 million meals. Richard Blais said that "the city of Houston and the Texans won, so to speak, the fundraiser — with athletes and chefs, both really competitive [types of people], coming together to raise money and awareness for a really special cause." According to Taste of the NFL CEO Wayne Kostroski, because Houston is the host city, "the Houston Food Bank will receive a majority (approximately 20 percent ) of the funds raised from this event, with the remaining funds to be shared equally among the other cities’ local food banks."
The tasting event included chef- and athlete-paired teams representing the 32 teams of the NFL. There were several Houston-area restaurants taking part in the festivities, including Hungry’s, Frank’s Americana Revival, Peli Peli, Pink’s Pizza and Third Coast; however, our city was represented by chef/owner of Cafe Annie, Robert Del Grande, and Chester Pitts, former defensive guard for the Houston Texans. Del Grande presented a delicious flat-iron steak with beef crackling egg salad.
The wine, sponsored by E&J Gallo Winery, was complimentary and poured table-side at each booth. Patrons were treated to tasty small plates from each of the 32 teams set up inside the large party tents. One of the most notable bites of the night was found at the Denver Broncos table. Chef Troy Guard's Colorado fish slider with Mizuna, charred green goddess and crushed peanuts was incredibly flavorful. Miami Dolphins chef Allen Susser presented a stone crab bisque with rum-glazed Nueske's bacon that was truly superb, but there was one dish that kept foodies returning for seconds and thirds.
Chef Jonathan Hale and his team at the San Diego Chargers' table were frying up mini house-made churros with foie gras ice cream. That's right, foie gras ice cream. Each churro resembled a flattened doughnut hole with a marble-size scoop of cold foie gras ice cream perched atop, with sprinkles that were delightfully spicy. The bite was playful and perfect. (We may have had more than our share.)
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It was pretty amazing to witness as a guest approached the Lunch Box area (designed to raffle off a pair of Super Bowl LI tickets) and purchase the last remaining eight boxes sitting on the shelves. For $100 each, a lunch box was yours (all the proceeds are donated). Some were filled with prizes such as a gift card for an official NFL football or a $50 gift certificate toward dinner at Shula's, and all came with a chance to win the grand prize of the Super Bowl tickets. Right in front of our eyes, $300,000 was raised to battle hunger in America. It was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
A number of famous faces from the sports and entertainment worlds, including Alyssa Milano, Danielle Moinet (WWE superstar), Trent Dilfer (ESPN analyst), Simone Biles (Olympic gold medalist), Aly Raisman (Olympic gold medalist), James Anderson and Carissa Rosario (NFL star and model), Carl Lewis (University of Houston honorary chair), Savvy Shields (Miss America 2017), Chris Kirkpatrick (member of N*Sync) and Anne Burrell (celebrity chef), showed up to support the single most successful charitable event at the Super Bowl.
The evening closed with The Band Perry performing for guests crowding near the stage, standing in the aisles, sitting at the round VIP tables, all together under the Houston sky with what seemed like a million light beams lighting up the night. More information about the Taste of the NFL's Party with a Purpose can be found here. To find out how you can help Kick Hunger, visit the local Houston Food Bank site.