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October 7, 2019

Our Most Successful Eat Your Words Yet

We are still glowing from Thursday night's Eat Your Words gala at the Chicago Cultural Center. Under Preston Bradley Hall's stained glass Tiffany Dome, our community's generosity shattered all expectations for the evening. Together, we raised an unprecedented $215,000 in support of 826CHI's tuition-free writing programs.

The evening began with small plates from Chicago's premier eight restaurants: Bar Biscay, Dos Urban Cantina, Dove's Luncheonette, Good Fortune, mfk., Momotaro, Nico Osteria, and Swift & Sons. Chef Charles Welch of Good Fortune whipped up an arctic char crudo with carrot ponzu, sesame, and pickled turnip for the occasion. Chef Chris Pandel of Swift & Sons treated guests to carpetbagger oysters with beef tartare and pickled mustard seeds. Vegetarians enjoyed street-style corn with hominy, crema, and queso cotija from Chefs Brian and Jennifer Jones Enyart at Dos Urban Cantina. Mixologist Donovan Mitchem of Moneygun slung Gin French 75s, and mixologist Danny Shapiro of Scofflaw paired the small plates with a cocktail called Given Reverie, a blend of Tito's Vodka, hibiscus, Escorial, pineapple, and lemon. At the Bellemore table, guests could wash down their meals with pineapple daiquiris lovingly prepared for them by mixologist Angie Caballero. Dessert included cookies from Christina Tosi of Milk Bar, truffles and brownies from Nate Meads of Girl & the Goat, and miniature tarts from Brad Hillier of Alliance Bakery.

Once all were sated, the program began with a spirited introduction from our host, Halleemah Nash, featuring a screening of "She'Cago," an animated piece of student writing from our friends at Demo Duck, a local production company. When CPS teacher and 826CHI teaching artist Theodora Kuhn took to the podium to share her journey to becoming a writer, she reminded us why our mission is critical. "The work 826CHI is doing ensures that young people don't have to doubt their power for such a long time."

Then came the moment we'd all been waiting for: the chef battle. Restaurateur and sommelier Michael Muser playfully emceed the battle, as chefs Lee Wolen—with student sous chef Madison Grant, 16, a junior chef featured on Food Network's "Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off"—and Jimmy Papadopoulos—with student sous chef Oisín Curry, 10, an 826CHI student-writer—went head-to-head for the prized bejeweled chef's hat. The chefs had twenty minutes to create an original, savory dish using two mystery ingredients: rice krispies and hot dogs. A hearty scent wafted through the room as the chef teams scrambled their dishes together. Lee and Madison created a gumbo, while Jimmy and Oisín went with a curry-fried rice. Our pantheon of judges voted in favor of Lee and Madison's gumbo.

After the excitement of the battle, 826CHI Executive Director Kendra Curry-Khanna reminded us of why we were gathered in the Chicago Cultural Center: so our city's young writers could experience the power of their voices. She awarded our second annual Community Partner Award to one organization who has made that work possible: Imagination, a pioneering content marketing firm in Chicago whose deep, meaningful, and consistent engagement has exemplified what true partnership can look like between nonprofits and Chicago’s business community. Next, 826CHI parent Kathryn Bailey spoke to the impact 826CHI programs have had on her daughter, Michaela.

Finally, Halleemah Nash seized the podium and virtuosically auctioneered prizes like a private mini-concert from Jeff Tweedy, a lunch with 826CHI founding board member Ira Glass, and a dinner in the private dining room underneath The Girl & the Goat. Students from 826CHI's Teen Writers Studio rounded out the evening with haikus inspired by Eat Your Words dishes. As the clock struck 10pm, we went home with full bellies and hearts, astonished by the support of Chicago's restaurant and business communities. Proceeds from Eat Your Words will enable us to serve over 3,500 Chicago students and over 115 educators at over 115 Chicago Public Schools this year. Each and every student will leave our programs a published author, and they'll be able to find their works in independent bookstores, libraries, and classrooms across Chicago and beyond.

Didn't make Eat Your Words 2019? Live vicariously through our photobooth photos here, courtesy of Glitterguts.