Even faced with the tough economic times of late, it looks like people are still willing to dig deep and pay for a meal out. Hey, you've gotta eat, right? People throughout the province seemed to adopt this matter-of-fact attitude last week in honour of the 16th annual Dining Out For Life event held in Vancouver and Whistler.
The annual fundraiser actually takes place all over North America in support of people living with HIV and AIDS. But here in B.C., the event has grown to include more than 230 restaurants stretching from the Lower Mainland up to Sea to Sky country. This year a record number of restaurants signed up to take part.
The fundraising model sees participating restaurants donate 25 per cent of sales from a set night (in this case, it was last Thursday, March 25). Stella Artois donated $1 from every bottle sold that day and Sumac Ridge is donating $1 from every single bottle of wine sold at BCLC locations for the entire month of March.
This year, organizers were aiming to raise $200,000, which will be split evenly between two organizations: A Loving Spoonful and Friends for Life.
Sheena Sargeant is executive director of Vancouver's Friends For Life Society, which offers support to people living with life-threatening illnesses likes HIV/AIDS. The society is founded on the belief that no one should face a serious illness alone, offering a broad range of complementary and integrative therapies through programs like massage/body work, yoga, Naturopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, a nutrition/meals program and care for individuals confined to their homes.
"We've always had a tremendous amount of support, especially in downtown Vancouver's west end, in the queer community; they've always stayed really strong with us," Sargeant said. "But we've definitely seen a ton of growth in the outlying regions more recently."
A Loving Spoonful provides free, nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Vancouver. In the last year alone, the organization has provided over 100,000 meals, which are delivered weekly by a team of volunteers. They operate five distinctive meal programs, ensuring that each client receives a service that best suits their needs.
This year, organizers put a lot of effort into promoting the event through social networking on Twitter and Facebook. As a result, the majority of the venues were packed the night of the fundraiser.
"We couldn't believe the response that that got," Sargeant said.
"We've never quite had a link, in terms of technology, to see the amount of people that support the event, and this year through a lot of social networking we were more in touch with that and we were definitely thrilled to see people respond online and also to hear that restaurants were pretty much sold-out that night," she added.
While Sargeant said they don't yet have a final tally on the event this year, she was confident that they would reach their goal of $200,000.
Dining Out For Life is one of three major fundraisers that Friends For Life depends on. The $100,000 that they will receive through this year's event represents about one sixth of their annual operating budget.
"We're open seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and that is something that you can't do on 10 per cent government funding," Sargeant pointed out.
Here in the Sea to Sky area, Christine's on Blackcomb, Ciao Thyme Bistro, Elements, Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company, Hy's Steakhouse, Jordan's Crossing, Kypriaki Norte and Player's Chophouse all took part in Dining Out For Life.
"Whistler has always been a longtime supporter of Dining Out For Life, so we're really thrilled to have the businesses on board and the people of Whistler on board."
If you didn't make it out to eat at one of the participating restaurants last Thursday, you can still make a direct donation at www.diningoutforlife.ca.
An extra scoop
To wrap up an amazing year, which included a star-studded partnership with Gordon Ramsay's hit television show, Hell's Kitchen and the release of their first-ever cookbook, Araxi has just received a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award nomination.
The annual James Beard Foundation Awards were established in 1990 to recognize the best and the brightest talents in the food and beverage industry and build on the foundation's mission of celebrating, preserving and nurturing America's culinary heritage and diversity.
Their new cookbook, entitled, Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant , was nominated in the Cooking from a Professional Point of View category. The Araxi book is facing stiff competition from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan and The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts by The French Culinary Institute with Judith Choate.
"I'm absolutely delighted for our entire culinary team at Araxi, along with John Sherlock, Jim Tobler and our publisher, Douglas & McIntyre, all of whom dedicated a great deal of time and expertise to this important project," Jack Evrensel, proprietor of Top Table Group, said in a recent release.
Araxi is one of just two Canadian nominees, but this isn't Chef Walt's first experience with the James Beard Foundation; he has performed three times at James Beard House, located in New York City's Greenwich Village.
The winners will be announced in New York City on Sunday, May 2 during an invitation-only event honouring the nation's top cookbooks, food journalists and culinary broadcast programs.