Fun Fundraising Food Festivals

  • by Sean Timberlake
  • Saturday August 8, 2015
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We're blessed to live in one of the greatest food cities in the world. Whether you're seeking Michelin-starred botes with Riedel crystal stemware, or a casual neighborhood eatery that routinely turns out plate after plate of satisfying, creative fare, you'd be hard pressed to find a better destination than San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

However, not everyone gets to partake of our bounty. Even though we are one of the richest cities in the country, hunger exists in a very real way, right in our backyards.

While you nibble on (once again legal) foie gras on brioche toast points, as many as one in four people in San Francisco and Marin face some degree of food insecurity.

It's only fitting, then, that you should put your eating to good use. There are plenty of organizations and events that help put food in the mouths of those who need it while pleasing your palate.

The grandest shindig of the year is Eat Drink SF (August 20-23;, a four-day celebration of San Francisco's stellar food talent presented by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. The main event kicks off on Thursday, August 20, with the Taco Knockdown (1425 Folsom Street), wherein chefs compete by showing off their culinary innovation with the humble taco. Think outside the tortilla; in this case, taco can mean any foldable food. This is a good opportunity to experience some of the culinary tour de force of the event without the big crowds.

Friday starts the series of three Grand Tastings across two days at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. A rotating roster of the city's best bars and restaurants will be showcasing their talents with tempting sips and nibbles.

"We have three grand tasting sessions featuring different restaurants for each, so you can attend all three and experience more than 100 restaurants," notes GGRA executive director Gwyneth Borden. "We also have amazing talent that will take the main stage for cooking demonstrations including Chefs Elizabeth Falkner, Charles Phan, Michael Chiarello, Ryan Scott, Olympian Brian Boitano, Tony Gemignani and more."

Saturday's classes are designed to take your culinary skills to the next level. Learn advanced ideas in seasoning for the grill plus best beer pairings, test your wine knowledge with a blind tasting, or take some tips from dining doyenne Marcia Gagliardi, a.k.a. Tablehopper, on how to host an A-list cocktail party.

Sunday celebrates San Francisco's favorite sport, brunch. The courtyard at Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission Street; will host the ultimate brunch affair, featuring Italian-inflected dishes including hand-pulled mozzarella, fried artichokes and crisp fried arancini. Grab an Aperol spritz or bloody mary, and dig in.

Tickets for each event are available individually, but if you want to dive deep, it's best to invest in a weekend pass. The VIP pass includes the Taco Knockdown, early admission to all three Grand Tastings, and the brunch event. Proceeds go to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Fund, supporting young entrants into the field of hospitality, and The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), dedicated to developing sustainable food systems through their markets and education.

CUESA hosts quite a number of events of their own, including last night's Getaway in a Glass, showcasing craft cocktails using seasonal produce, and their annual Summer Celebration, a tasting-style event on the order of, but in a smaller scale than, Eat Drink SF. The heavy-hitter event, though, is the upcoming Sunday Supper (October 18;, where local chefs flex their culinary muscles with the best local farms have to offer.

This luxe dining event affords you the chance to sup on dishes made by the chefs of restaurants you may have struggled to land tables at, including State Bird Provisions, Coi, Mourad, and Rich Table. Start with hors d'oeuvres at the reception, then settle in for the grand four-course meal at a huge communal table spanning the entire length of the Ferry Building's concourse under the romantic glow of the Edison bulb-lit arches.

"The Ferry Building is undeniably one of the most spectacular settings in all of San Francisco," says Executive Director Marcy Coburn. "We set up a dramatic open-air kitchen in front of the Ferry Building (complete with red carpet), where 40 renowned Bay Area chefs create a lavish four-course feast that is served to guests upstairs in the Grand Hall. Last year, Chef Jacques Pepin and his best friend Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak showed up for dinner. You never know who is going to be at Sunday Supper!"

Fresh fruit and old friends at Summer Celebration. Photo: Amanda Lynn

Even small events can have a big impact. Project Open Hand ( provides more than 2,500 nutritious meals and delivers over 200 bags of groceries to seniors and the critically ill. Initially conceived to help feed AIDS patients in San Francisco during the crisis, Project Open has expanded its focus, and now approximately 20% of their efforts are in the East Bay.

In that spirit, they are launching a new event, Toast & Jam (September 26;, a champagne jazz brunch in Preservation Park. Tickets start at $75, with sponsorship opportunities escalating to include reserved tables and other perks.

The San Francisco Professional Food Society is hosting their annual fundraising barbecue (August 22;, benefiting Oakland's Bread Project and the City College of San Francisco Culinary Arts Program Scholarship Fund, both designed to help those with low incomes to achieve their professional goals in the food industry. This year the event sports a Brazilian Carnival theme, so slap on your best Carmen Miranda hat (I know you have one), and enjoy a caipirinha. Yours truly will be pouring at the bar for the first couple hours.

A chef garnishes a delish dish at Eat Drink SF. Photo: Gamma Nine

For an event with a can-do attitude, check out Canstruction (September 14-18;, where artists build whimsical sculptures from canned food. Entrance to the display in Rincon Center (101 Spear Street) is free of charge, but you are encouraged to bring cans of food for donation to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, who provide over 100,00 meals' worth of food to the hungry in the 415.