Chefs for Impact is an organization supporting food sustainability that encompasses a community of culinary industry specialists. Though the organization is young, they have already partnered with world-renowned and household-named chefs like Dan Barber, Anita Lo, and Victoria Blamey, who act as Chefs for Impact Ambassadors. The team intends to bridge the gap between food producers and consumers, while empowering people and connecting communities to make sustainable food decisions.
“We believe that making the food sustainability movement more inclusive is critical to reverse the breakdown of our food system — and that lasting change starts from the ground up,” reads the organization’s website.
We caught up with Chief Chef Educator Kristina Ramos and Founder and President Olivia Chessé to learn more.
Talk a little about your background and what brought you to this point.
I grew up in the south of France, and have always been passionate about food and the community around it. I spent the last 15 years collaborating with chefs and luxury food brands throughout France, Asia, and the US. When I moved to New York, I launched Epicurean Nights, an experimental multi-sensorial dining event agency. In 2020, when Covid hit and the world fell apart, my company was forced to pause. That’s when I began to rethink my goals and what I wanted to contribute to the world. Food was what I knew best. I decided to create Chefs for Impact to inspire change in the food industry, and cultivate a community of culinary professionals committed to environmental and social impact.
What inspired you to create Chefs for Impact?
Like many others, the pandemic has changed my perspective on the industry. I realized the influence and responsibility restaurants and trend-setting chefs have within the larger food system. I had to use their voices, knowledge, and exposure to educate people and raise awareness. Who better than chef to address food sustainability in a delicious way?
Give us a little background on what you do as an organization and the network of sustainable chefs that work with you as ambassadors.
Our mission as an organization is to inspire a more mindful relationship with food in ways that are good for the planet, our health, and our tastebuds. We do this mainly through our media and programming, such as our youth program, Chefs for Kids which has taught over 400 kids so far, and our food and wine events. We are able to create such far-reaching impact because of our Ambassador Program, made up of 80+ food change-makers (mostly chefs) who collaborate and consult on our projects and programs, lending their expertise. We truly believe that chefs are our most powerful advocates for a better food future. They play an integral role in the fight for food system disruption as they facilitate the cultural changes needed to eat responsibly.
You’ve become a leader in the sustainability movement. Talk about the importance of raising awareness for a more sustainable food system.
Food is our great unifier, touching us all in unique and impactful ways. Unfortunately, the majority of our food system does not function in a way that benefits our personal and planetary health. To put it bluntly, not all food is created equally, and most people don’t realize the severity of how bad our food system has become, and the steps that can be taken to fix it. Roughly 80 percent of adults don’t think about the production of food, 40 percent of youth say they know little to nothing about the topic of food sustainability, and 56 percent of young people don’t believe they can do anything about climate change. There is a general lack of hope, and raising awareness for a more sustainable food system is the first step towards reigniting that hope, and sparking change.
What’s next for Chefs for Impact?
We’re currently in the process of building our first community garden with our partners at Grand St. Settlement at Rutgers Community Center that will open in April! We are really excited to start bringing our Chefs for Kids youth program outside into the garden. Starting this summer, we’ll also be collaborating with a new luxury sustainable resort with accompanying farm in upstate New York, bringing some of our projects from the city to the greater Hudson Valley area. Throughout the year we’ll be hosting more food and wine events (keep an eye out on our website for more details.) and as always, we’re constantly connecting with change-makers in the food space, telling their stories, and exploring ways to collaborate and create more impact.
Talk a little about your background and what brought you to this point.
As a first generation Filipino-American born in Queens, New York — food was always a big part of my life. After getting a Biology degree, I decided to pursue my passion in food by attending the International Culinary Center in New York City. I worked in Michelin stared restaurants in both New York and France, including Eleven Madison Park, Auberge La Feniere, and Oxalis. When everything shut down during the pandemic, I worked with Eleven Madison Park and Rethink to provide thousands of meals to essential workers and communities suffering from food insecurity. That shift from fine dining kitchen to cooking for those who needed it most, pivoted the direction of my career and brought me to Chefs for Impact.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Growing up in Queens, one of the most diverse counties, I was surrounded by all different types of food. Filipino culture is all about sharing through food. My grandmother would roll hundreds of spring rolls and have me sit, watch and roll alongside her. When my family moved to Long Island, there was a major shift to Italian-American food — pasta, pizza, and chicken cutlets — a whole different side of food I hadn’t been exposed to. I grew up in an era where food network and the cooking channel was at its peak. Anthony Bourdain would be playing on TV after school and I was able to get front row seats to food from every corner of the world. Becoming a chef gave me an opportunity to take my passion of eating and learning from different cultures, and share that with others.
How did you begin working with Chefs for Impact?
As many people experienced, the pandemic really shifted the way I thought about cooking. The way we treat the people we feed and how we treat the food that feeds us. I met Olivia and immediately felt that we shared the same passion for food and the necessary changes people need to make towards a more sustainable path. I’ve utilized all of the knowledge I’ve learned throughout the years in fine dining space towards helping people eat healthier and more sustainably.
As Chief Chef Educator, talk a little about some of the programs you’re leading for Chef for Impact.
Our youth programs provide kids the opportunity to create a better relationship with food. Each class covers topics of sustainability, agriculture, nutrition, and how to cook from scratch. It’s a hands-on program where kids ranging from ages four to 17 learn where their food comes from and how to get it on to their plate. We partner with other chefs, farmers, and artists to create a fun and creative hands-on learning experience with the goal of transforming kids’ relationship to food and encouraging more sustainable eating behaviors.
Talk about your volunteer program. How can people get involved?
Because we are still a relatively young organization, we’re always looking for people to lend their skills and expertise in a variety of ways. If you go to our website under “Get Involved,” you’ll see a form for volunteering. Right now, the most hands-on way to get involved with our programs is volunteering to support our youth program Chefs for Kids, and more specifically, our new Community Garden opening this April! If you want to help plant, weed, water, or facilitate a lesson, reach out!