Fatherhood & Food: Chefs Fight to End Childhood Hunger
For most chefs, juggling family life with their demanding, fast-paced line of work is exhausting. Looking at media depictions of the profession—such as 2014’s comedy-drama Chef—one would think that any male chef with a family is an absentee fathers with a work obsession. In reality, there is a tremendous number of chefs who are equally as dedicated to their families and communities as they are to their culinary craft.
As is the case for a large and growing number in the industry, fatherhood served as an extra motivation to fight against childhood hunger for one chef and philanthropist.
Chef Marc Murphy is well-known for many things, principally for his culinary skills and leadership as executive chef and owner of Benchmarc Restaurants, which includes the New York City concepts Landmarc and Ditch Plains. Murphy also frequently lends his culinary chops as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, and has taken on industry greats in the network’s Iron Chef challenges. What is perhaps the most impressive though is his deep involvement with charities working to eradicate childhood hunger, and his advocacy in enough food-based programs to fill 10 resumes.
Murphy takes part in multiple initiatives to alleviate hunger in the U.S., from New York–based City Harvest to national programs like Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Though Murphy was active in the cause before his son and daughter were born (ages eight and 11, respectively), he says childhood hunger hits home now in a way it never did before.
“When you have kids and you talk about childhood hunger—it really strikes a chord,” he says. “Obviously because I’m a dad, but also because I’m a chef, and you just can’t imagine that children in this country are going hungry. You suddenly feel the weight of the responsibility.”
As a member of Share Our Strength’s leadership council, Murphy helps organize and host events while giving his public support to the organization in various ways. One of the most valuable things Murphy provides is simply his voice and recognizable name, something he encourages other chefs to leverage to increase awareness about the 16 million children living with hunger in the U.S.
“It’s just great to be a part of a group of people—chefs—who want to get involved in a positive way, and that can do that, and that actually do do that,” he says. “Hungry kids don’t have lobbyists in Washington, so [providing] a voice for them in our government is extremely important.”
Share Our Strength’s co-founder, Debbie Shore, can speak to the impact that chefs are making not only in fine dining, but also in finding solutions for feeding the hungry that can’t afford to make it to their restaurants.
"For 30 years, the culinary industry has been our strongest vehicle when it comes to making sure our most vulnerable kids have the healthy food they need to grow and be strong," she says. "Chefs like Marc have translated their passion for food and hospitality into a tireless commitment to ending childhood hunger. From hosting culinary benefits to advocating for nutrition programs on Capitol Hill, chefs have stepped up as true leaders in this movement.”
And for fathers like Murphy, charity starts in the home. In between kitchen shifts, event planning, and TV appearances, Murphy still takes time to make breakfast for his kids every morning and to expose them to the international flavors of his own well-traveled childhood. While he helps develop his children’s palates, he hopes they will also understand that food is not only for savoring, but also for sharing.
He says he doesn’t want to push his children into the restaurant industry, but he does want them to understand the importance of food from all angles and to be aware of the need to give back. When his daughter sold one of her American Girl Dolls to give the money to Share Our Strength, Murphy felt as though the message had been well received. In this way, being a father has helped Murphy expand his vision as a chef and citizen. He also says being a chef has informed his role as a father.
“As a chef or sous chef, you’re always teaching people things, and I think that’s something you do as a father as well—you learn how to run a fair ship,” he says. “It’s a hard industry as far as time-constraints go, but making time for your family is just something you have to consciously make an effort to do, but it’s not that difficult—I like my family!”
And with that, Murphy highlights a key connection between food, philanthropy, and family: it’s something chefs can find time for out of their shared passion for elevating both quality of food and quality of life. On this Father’s Day, cheers to the chefs and fathers who are taking the time to do it all; not in spite of, but because of, their hectic, demanding, and fulfilling profession.
By Emily Byrd