300 Miles, Millions of Meals

In Santa Rosa, Calif., from May 15-17, hundreds of chefs, CEOs, and other members of the culinary community will hop on their bikes and ride 300 miles, cycling together on three 100-mile routes in Sonoma County. This isn’t a sightseeing tour of sunny landscapes and California Wine Country, though. As Chefs Cycle riders, their goal is to raise $2.4 million dollars – the equivalent of 24 million meals – for No Kid Hungry, a nationwide campaign launched in 2010 by Share Our Strength to solve child hunger by working with local organizations to promote school breakfasts and programs for afterschool and summer meals.

Today, the effort is supported by hospitality pros like Danny Meyer; brands like OpenTable, Williams-Sonoma, and Arby’s; and members of the culinary community who participate in Chefs Cycle by committing to ride or contributing financially. According to Adele Nelson, director of Chefs Cycle, the annual event was started by a few active supporters of No Kid Hungry and has grown each year to include more chefs committed to ending child hunger while changing their own lifestyles.

Cycling for Change

In 2014, chefs who raised funds for No Kid Hungry by hosting ticketed dinners, auctions, and other events were in search of a different way to continue to support the campaign, one that would get them out of their kitchens and onto their bikes.

“We piloted with six riders in 2014, and they rode from New York City to Washington, D.C.,” Nelson says, adding that the first ride went so well they began recruiting chefs from other cities, which led Chefs Cycle to expand to its current format of one ride on each coast. “We did the New York-to-D.C. ride again, and then we took another group of riders out to California and did a Santa Barbara-to-San Diego ride. It was 3 days and 300 miles, and we’ve kept with that tradition.”

Chefs Cycle

With a few dozen riders participating in 2015, the event raised $300,000, but that number more than tripled the next year.

“In 2016, we took out a group of 124 riders and we raised $1 million,” Nelson recalls. “I think that was the real moment of [realizing] this is something that is so incredibly life-changing for the chefs and for the kids that we’re serving, because we really are having a huge financial impact on the money that’s raised for No Kid Hungry.”

Last year’s ride in Santa Rosa included 220 riders who helped raise $2 million, a fundraising goal that has been raised to $2.4 million for this year’s repeat of the ride. After the May 2018 event in Santa Rosa, a second Chefs Cycle ride will be held in Charlottesville, Va., September 25-27, a location and date chosen with East Coast participants in mind.

“We love May in Santa Rosa because it is a temperate climate there, but [winter weather] makes it very difficult for a lot of the East Coast riders to really train on the road to be ready to ride those three days,” Nelson says. “We have a goal of about 175 riders in Charlottesville, and we have almost 100 already committed and training.”

A Healthy Hobby

Between West Coast riders who decide to ride in the East Coast event and new participants who hear about Chefs Cycle from a colleague or friend who signed up, Nelson expects the number of riders committed to the Charlottesville event to rise after the May ride in Santa Rosa. However, she stresses the importance of making sure chefs are prepared for the days-long endurance test.

“It is very hard [so] I don’t try to convince a chef that they can do this,” Nelson says. “But we have a really incredible training plan that can work on the road or on the bike trainer in your garage – or wherever you can put your trainer and not go completely crazy riding for 2 hours in one place.”

In addition to finding time to train, chefs also have to plan for the logistical and scheduling challenges of being away from their kitchens and their families for several days. Many chefs that make time to train for a Chefs Cycle event are also motivated by the benefits cycling can have on their lifestyles.

“I think a lot of them have made the commitment to make real, serious changes in their lifestyles, whether it’s cutting back on the amount that they go out on a Saturday night so they can go on a training ride on a Sunday morning or [changing] what they physically put in their body,” Nelson explains. “As a chef, you realize that your fuel is what you feed your body with, and when you’re out on a bike ride you know when you haven’t eaten well in the days before, as you would with any long endurance [sport].”

For example, Chefs Cycle riders Matthew Jennings and Seamus Mullen have been vocal about pursuing healthier lifestyles and have both cited cycling as a preferred way to exercise.

Chefs Cycle

“I think everybody’s just inspired by the changes these riders are making,” Nelson says. “We are happy that people even think to tackle this. You have to be quite dedicated to do it, but I don’t think anybody has walked away and said, ‘Eh, I really wish I hadn’t.'”

The Chefs Cycle network also gives members of the culinary community a new way to come together and support each other.

“There are great successes that we’ve celebrated together, and there’s also hard times [with] what has happened in the industry not only this year but in years past,” Nelson says. “This is a really nice way to add to your network, not just in your own [local] community but across the country. When all these riders travel to different places, they’ll email me and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Seattle! What Chefs Cycle riders do we have there?'”

How to Support Chefs Cycle

Members of the culinary community who are interested in committing to a Chefs Cycle ride are encouraged to contact Adele Nelson (anelson@strength.org) to get started.

“I can connect them with someone in their community who is a Chefs Cycle rider,” Nelson says. “Every single person on our Chefs Cycle team is willing to go out and talk through the basics and be a coach and a cheerleader for anyone who is new to the sport.”

Chefs Cycle supporters may host smaller rides and other fundraising events throughout the year, which the No Kid Hungry team can help organize and run. Non-cyclers who want to support No Kid Hungry can do so by helping a ride meet its overall fundraising goal by making a general donation or contributing toward a specific rider’s or cycling team’s individual fundraising goal.

“Through a lot of different studies that our project managers have done, we’ve figured out that for $1, we are able to connect a child to 10 meals,” Nelson says. “Every little bit counts, whether it’s funding that will help increase the amount of food a school system gets so that they can make breakfast possible for every child or [establishing a] summer meals program [in an urban or rural community].”

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.