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Top Chefs From OC and LA Come Together for This Charity Event at the Happiest Place on Earth

Written By: Raphael Madrid
Photographed By: Ed Visions OC Chef’s Table

The epidemic of homelessness has been a constant issue all throughout Orange County. It seems that wherever we may travel within our community, there is someone in need of shelter, food or assistance. Fortunately, many initiatives have been put in place to provide much-needed relief for the less fortunate members of our society. Groups like the Illumination Foundation and their partners have been true beacons of hope for those living with homelessness and advocates for facing this crisis head-on.  

For over a decade, the Illumination Foundation has been connecting individuals and families to housing services, medical and mental health care and substance abuse programs not covered by any governmental programs. Since it’s conception from the hearts of Founders Paul Leon and Paul Cho, Illumination Foundation has positively impacted over 46,378 people through their services. While that feat is a lot to be proud of, their mission of ending the cycle of homelessness has yet to be accomplished.

As a safety-net organization, Illumination Foundation has developed two major programs that encompass their vision of helping the most vulnerable in our community. The first is Recuperative Care, which offers a safe environment for clients to stabilize in and recover once they get discharged from hospital treatment. The program also helps to treat any medical or mental health needs, as well as permanent supportive housing when available. The other is Children & Families, which aims to work with parents on family stabilization and parenting, making sure that children stay educated and in school while also connecting them to a permanent housing solution.

Since 2013, Illumination Foundation has continued to host “Chef’s Table”—a fundraising gala featuring some of the most talented chefs with restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange County; this year directly benefiting their emergency housing program for families with children, which currently has a waiting list of 80 families.

On Mar. 3, 42 extraordinary chefs have joined the fray, lending their culinary prowess with the hope of ending the cycle of homelessness in our communities. Held at the Disneyland Hotel’s grand ballroom, the evening’s festivities included silent and live auctions, entertainment and, of course, a luxurious five-course meal skillfully prepared tableside by these exquisite chefs and their teams. With over 400 guests in attendance, things were sure to get lively once things got underway. “This event has been sold out three times…it sold out a first time, so they released more tickets, and so on; and so forth!” said Bill Taormina, CEO and Founder of Clean City, and one of the night’s special honorees. This truly speaks volumes about how much the community has bought into Illumination Foundation’s core mission.  

Taormina, who played an integral part in the construction of the Anaheim Emergency Shelter (in just 14 days), said that he wanted to make it his personal mission to reinvest in Anaheim’s community and that the 200-bed emergency facility was just the beginning. In his excitement about what’s to come in the future, Taormina mentioned that “as long as the private sector, governmental sector and Illumination Foundation come together like the ingredients of a cake…we can make our dreams come true.”

But it’s not just the guests—all the chefs have committed themselves to this cause because they know the true value of what they are doing. Some are new to the event while others have kept coming back year after year to lend their talents toward a worthwhile cause.  

As you walk into the tremendous ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel, you’re instantly greeted with a display of various aromas from the chefs’ preparation tables. Continue to walk around and you’ll find yourself getting lost—not because you can’t seem to find your way, but because you’ve become truly captivated by the grandeur and originality of each table’s centerpieces.  Some were towering with extravagance, others came elegant and understated, but they all had a central theme that either complemented their menu or helped weave a beautiful story together.

Chef Linda Johnsen of Filomena’s Italian Kitchen in Costa Mesa (who entrusted us to let everyone learn a dark secret: that she’ll be on an episode of “Restaurant: Impossible” in the coming months!) explained “how near and dear this cause is to [her] heart” and how it comes down to all our responsibility. “I can’t imagine not doing this event and not contributing because it’s our responsibility to contribute to the safety of these children, their families, and I’m very proud to be able to help raise the amount of money that we do tonight,” said Chef Johnsen. Chefs Stephen LaFountain and Magellan Moore of Mastro’s had similar motivations, mentioning how being a father and the thought of being in that position as a parent was the only impetus for selflessness.   

While the guests and participants at OC Chef’s Table were there to have a good time, you could honestly feel their passion for this cause. Jet Tila, Celebrity Chef and Food Network star, and also featured chef of this year’s gala, mentioned how his background of growing up in East LA motivated him to be involved in the organization. “Being born into a poor immigrant family…I was fortunate to never have been homeless, but I do remember being hungry…and that never really leaves you,” said Chef Tila. When asked about where his excitement lies most regarding the evening, he mentioned how rare it is to have this many high caliber chefs come under one roof “to do good…and have fun while doing it.”  

“To do good and have fun while doing it” seemed to be the mantra for the evening because no matter which chef we spoke to, they all seemed to commit to one game plan. In our conversation with Founder Leon regarding his aspirations for the evening’s festivities, he mentioned “advocacy.” The necessity for education, understanding and bringing awareness of these issues of homelessness in our community to the people who can help the most are what is important and help bring about change. OC Chef’s Table

Illumination Foundation
1091 N Batavia St OC Chef’s Table
Orange, CA 92867 OC Chef’s Table
949.273.0555 OC Chef’s Table