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Batali, Boulud, Ripert Lead Star Chefs Spicing Fundraiser Galas

Mario Batali
Mario Batali, chef and restaurateur, has his own charitable foundation, chaired the Food Bank for New York City's gala and fundraiser last Thursday and is sought after by other nonprofits for gala events. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

When the Food Bank for the Heartland in Nebraska enlisted Food Network’s Duff Goldman last year for its annual event, the “Ace of Cakes” star helped raise $250,000, a record for the Omaha food party.

“It’s hard to turn down charity events,” Goldman said in an interview before the Culinary Institute of America’s March gala. “When I have to say ‘no,’ it feels like a knife goes through me.”

As chefs and restaurateurs become media stars and build fan bases using television and social networks, nonprofits seek them out to add food and glamour to their fundraisers and even become patrons and board members.

Mario Batali sits on the board of the Food Bank for New York City and served as co-chairman for last Thursday’s gala, which raised $1.4 million. Batali helped recruit R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe as a donor.

Citymeals-on-Wheels got Daniel Boulud to host a truffle-themed meal that brought in about $710,000. Chef Dave Martin raised more than $15,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York by offering to cook two dinners for 10 people.

Streets International, a New York nonprofit that funds a culinary training program in Hoi An, Vietnam, got Gramercy Tavern executive chef Michael Anthony and former “Top Chef” contestant Anita Lo of Manhattan’s Annisa to make small plates at its fundraiser last week.

Chef Eric Ripert, whose Le Bernardin has been awarded three Michelin stars, is a board member for City Harvest, to which he donated $93,000 by taking $1 for every meal served in 2009.

“We count the requests for charity events, and I get about five a day,” said Ripert, who also gives money to Tibet House US, a nonprofit which supports Tibetan culture.

Groove With Me

Tonight, dance charity Groove With Me Inc. hopes to bolster its $385,000 budget with a lineup of top chefs working its “Tap and Tapas” gala. They include Ripert; Tom Colicchio from “Top Chef”; Aldea chef and owner George Mendes, a one-Michelin-star chef who debuts on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” this month; England-born gastro-pub queen April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig; and A Voce’s Missy Robbins, who made Food & Wine magazine’s 2010 list of the best new chefs in the U.S.

Ticket sales and additional donations will help Groove raise about $200,000.

“Having Eric and Tom at the event gives us clout and validity,” Groove executive director Abby McCreath said by phone. “People now come for the food even if they don’t know the organization.”

Farmers in Portugal

Mendes was named last week to Food and Wine magazine’s 2011 list of best new chefs. On “Top Chef Masters,” he’s competing for a $100,000 prize that would go to Charity Water, a nonprofit that provides clean water in impoverished countries.

The son of Portuguese immigrant farmers who struggled to make a living as factory workers after moving to Connecticut, Mendes said he connected to Groove’s mission to teach dance to disadvantaged girls who can’t afford lessons.

“I came from very, very humble beginnings,” Mendes said. “Groove With Me is putting girls into a tap class, a safe haven, so a program like that hits home. You see the people you’re helping, and that makes it all the more worthwhile.”

(Groove with Me’s “Tap and Tapas” fundraiser is tonight at 450 W. 31st St., Studio 450, in Manhattan from 6:30 to 9. Information:

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