Cooking For His Community
Philanthropy in Napa Valley
Chef Charlie Palmer is famous for his contributions new American cuisine and training the next generation of chefs through his restaurants like Aureole, Charlie Palmer Steak, and Dry Creek Kitchen. to Palmer has a big heart treating his staff and the kids he coached at his sons’ school in Santa Rosa like an extended family. He extends that care to the local community through two benefits he hosts every year: Pigs & Pinot and Project Zin.
Troubled by the fact that an estimated one in five children in the United States regularly goes hungry, Palmer uses Pigs & Pinot each March as a benefit for Share Our Strength. Master Sommeliers and local chefs team up to create the most exquisite and inventive Pinot Noir and pork pairings. Melissa Perello of Frances, Brian Voltaggio of Volt, and local Sonoma favorites John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Zazu Kitchen + Farm have lent their skills to the event, now in its 15th year. (The 2020 event was postponed due to COVID-19.)
While Share Our Strength is a national organization, a portion of the proceeds supports local scholarships and charities. “Pigs & Pinot allows us to give back to the community: hotel employees, restaurant employees, winery, and farmworkers,” Palmer said in a written statement.
“These funds help support community members who can’t afford to send their kid to baseball activities or who can’t afford a tutor or lunch program.”
For Project Zin held each August, Palmer partners with his winemaker friend Clay Mauritson to raise money for Down Syndrome research. “Clay and I have been great friends since my family moved to Healdsburg,” Palmer said. When Mauritson’s young son was diagnosed with the genetic condition, he and his wife Carrie were stunned and unsure of what to expect. The genetic condition affects an estimated 1 in every 700 babies born in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
But support and advice from Down Syndrome Association North Bay helped the Mauritsons realize that their son could have a full life. The volunteer group’s only fundraiser usually netted about $5,000 a year, so Mauritson and Palmer teamed up to pull in more donations.
Mauritson is a wizard when it comes to Zinfandel. His family has been farming in Dry Creek Valley since 1868, and his Zins for Rockpile and Mauritson are coveted. For Project Zin, they invite regional chefs to show off their best dishes to pair with standout California Zins, including Ridge, Turley, and Williams-Selyem.
In the past nine years, Project Zin has raised $750,000 for the association. “Our goal is $1 million, and we’re well on our way,” Palmer said. “The local support has been amazing.”
For those who have never been to either Pigs & Pinot or Project Zin, they’re in for a pleasant surprise. “I just don’t think you can go wrong with a wine and food event, especially in Napa and Sonoma where new products and ideas are constantly being hatched,” Palmer said. “This is a true incubator of American food, and there is always something interesting to experience.”
Article By: Maria C. Hunt