The Philanthropic Chefs have created meals to foster community for three decades.
For more than 30 years in Geneseo, friends, fun and food — glorious food — have come together in fellowship to help others.
In 1986, the Marco Polo Dinner was established and became an annual event to assist homeless youth and later branched out to other fundraising meals. The group of College faculty and staff members, village residents, and sometimes students, came to be known as the Philanthropic Chefs.
Together, they have raised more than $125,000 for various causes, including boosting efforts of the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts, for Hearthside Cats’ animal rescue efforts, and Livingston CARES, which has organized nearly 1,300 volunteers to help residents rebuild following Hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy.
There was a bunch of people who liked cooking and wanted to do something for the community,” said member Lynn Melizzi Kennison, ’81/M.S.Ed ’91. “And this was not just ‘bring a casserole.’ People who cooked were artists.”
Philanthropic Chefs founder and Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Emeritus Bill Cook — who is also known for his homemade gelato — tapped his friends, fellow faculty members and students for that first Marco Polo event, in hopes of raising money for Covenant House, a shelter for homeless teens in New York City and other places.
His idea was to have a community dinner that synched its menu with the travels of Marco Polo, the 14th-century Venetian explorer. The event was part travelogue, part feast. A taste of Italy might be followed by Moroccan dishes, then onto Myanmar and Syria, and back to Italy for Cook’s gelato.
I spent four days making at least 10 different kinds of gelato and some sherbets,” he said. “People knew we had 12 courses, but you had to save room for dessert.”
The dinners gave the members a successful recipe for the other fundraisers: Mix capable cooks with an eager wait staff, dishwashers and other volunteers. Experiment, have fun, and give back.
Many of the original chefs are still active. They include Wes Kennison ’79, lecturer in English and languages and literatures, and the faculty fellow for international studies, as well as Ron Herzman, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English, and his spouse, Ellen Herzman, an adjunct lecturer in English, as well as Olympia Nicodemi, and her spouse, Gary Towsley, both Distinguished Teaching Professors of Mathematics.
Adjunct Lecturer in English Glenn McClure ’86/MS’11 joined while he was an undergraduate. He and his spouse, Paula McClure MS.Ed. ’92, a community outreach assistant and student employment service coordinator at the College, have taken the lead on Gumbo to Go, the twice-annual fundraiser that benefits Livingston CARES.
Volunteers start shopping for ingredients at 7:30 a.m. They chop, stir, sauté and add spice to the gumbo all day to make more than 200 servings along with sides of homemade pralines and cornbread. It’s long hours, run on camaraderie. This year, the Philanthropic Chefs raised $4,800 for Livingston CARES. In addition to hurricane recovery, Livingston CARES helps facilitate 100 Geneseo students spending their spring break at Give Kids the World Village, a theme park in Florida that serves kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
The Philanthopic Chefs has been fueled by fellowship,” says Lynn Kennison. “All of these people doing things for others. And it’s been fun.”