Best known as the charming host of Food Network's insanely popular Chopped and as the food and wine connoisseur on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Ted Allen is a man of many hats. He's an accomplished journalist, cookbook author, contributing writer for Esquire, and, in role that's close to Lifelong's heart, Allen also serves as a national Dining Out For Life spokesperson. Allen recently chatted with Lifelong about why he participates in the event every year. He shared with us his thoughts on the Pacific Northwest's vibrant food truck scene, the delicious beer and wine that Washington has to offer, and why folks should join him on the big day, this year on April 28th.
Lifelong: You've been a spokesperson for Dining Out For Life for nine years — how did you first get introduced to the event?
Ted Allen: I was introduced twenty-something years ago when I attended my first Dining Out For Life in Chicago. I still remember the restaurant Bella Vista on Belmont Avenue! It just struck me right away as I've always loved good eating but it was an opportunity to go out and spend the same amount of money you'd ever spend at a restaurant, or at least the excuse to spend a little bit more! But really what stuck with me was that it was an opportunity to make a really meaningful contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
L: What made you want to get more actively involved with Dining Out For Life?
TA: Seeing the real heroes of the campaign in action; the activists and volunteers who are the people who devote their whole careers to fighting HIV; but we can't all do that on an everyday basis. What’s special about Dining Out For Life is that it’s something anyone can do — journalists, bankers, teachers, police officers, you name it — because we all need to eat.
L: Do you have any tips for any first time Dining Out For Lifers hoping to spread the word?
TA: I think a lot of people have made Dining Out For Life an annual tradition, grabbing a gang of their friends to get together and filling a table of ten at their favorite restaurant. It's a great way to start small, by making it a traditon.
L: Do you have your plans set for this year's event?
TA: Everybody always asks me that and I never want to tell them the answer! There are so many amazing restaurants taking part in the event and I don't want to shine a light on one specific restaurant. What I like to do on Dining Out For Life, since I'm involved as a spokesperson, is to bounce around from one place for an appetizer, another for an entree, and another for dessert. And for restaurants that's a great way for them to get new folks so I'm all for that.
L: I'm veering off topic a bit but I've read that you're a fan of the Pacific Northwest's food trucks — what about that scene appeals to you? I'm asking because for the first time, we've had a food truck sign on at the 50% giving level which we're so appreciative for.
TA: We've had a lot of chefs from Seattle and Portland on the show which is how I was introduced to that world and how I know the food truck scene is thriving.
The dream for any restaurant is to have a profit margin of around 10% so for this food truck and the other participating restaurants to be donating 30-50% of their day's proceeds is phenomenal and speaks to the level of their generosity.
L: I've got to ask one Washington-centric question and as we've got a bunch of craft breweries and wineries — are you a beer or wine man?
TA: Well I'm a fan of both so it certainly depends on the situation but a few years ago a childhood friend of mine, Ted Seifert, opened a wine shop in Bellingham (Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants, if you're ever in the area!) and I was able to be there for that. Such a fun experience and I was able to sample some of the Columbia Valley's finest.
L: Why do you think it's important for people for take part in the event?
TA: As long as it's within your means to go out to these restaurants, it's no extra effort yet it brings over $4 million in a single day for AIDS service organizations across the country and the funds raised in your city stay in your city, helping your own neighbors right at home. At the same time it helps chefs and restauranteurs, who are people that are near and dear to my heart, get their name out to a potentially new audience. It really is a win-win-win for all parties involved; the agencies benefitting from the funds raised, the partnering restaurants, and, of course, the diners!
We’re so grateful that Ted Allen was able to take the time to speak with us - among other things we chatted about were working alongside his fellow Dining Out For Life spokespersons (and even attending a NYFD fundraiser with one of those fellow DOFL spokespersons Daisy Martinez, because who doesn't love some hunky firemen!), the upcoming season of the pint-sized spin-off Chopped Jr., and meeting young professionals in the HIV/AIDS field and learning what fuels their passion for the cause. Thanks Ted!
Join Ted and other generous people in the community at Dining Out for Life on April 28. Check out what restaurants are participating. We'll see you then!