Serving up Smiles

One thing that is fascinating about food, is how it connects us across cultures, lifestyles and platforms. When I learned of enCourage Kids Foundation and their Serving up Smiles event, I was reminded of this ever bonding connection.

Serving up Smiles is an evening of fine cuisines provided by New York’s best, with an incredible line up of restaurants like Mastro’s, Bryant Park Grill and Butter. This event, directly supports programming for enCourage Kids, who are a resource to families and children affected by numerous health challenges. The enCourage Kids foundation provides an outlet for those affected to laugh, grow and experience life outside of the hospital. Families that are apart of enCourage Kids foundation are invited to attend Serving up Smiles, including donors, local supporters and now, we’re personally inviting you.

Make yourself Valuable,” is what Michael Jenkins, Chef de Cuisine at Butter told us when we sat with him to discuss his longevity in the industry. As one of the few faces of color, his vision for representation immediately tied to enCourage Kid’s mission to be as inclusive as possible.

Intrigued by the intensity at Butter, Chef Jenkins has been writing his own story in their kitchen for the past 11 years. He shared with us about how his favorite part of cooking was creating something so beautiful, with his own two hands, that would be destroyed in a matter of minutes. There is something to be said about how selfless the work of a Chef is and Chef Jenkins shows us that daily through his work and certainly through his participating in Serving up Smiles which he’s been apart of since it’s inception.

Serving up Smiles will be held on October 23rd at Chelsea Piers and is the brainchild of Executive Director, Michele Hall-Duncan. We had the opportunity to sit with Michele and talk about how this food driven event plays a huge part in the success of enCourage Kids Foundation.

Chef Josh Capon
Photography by Elizabeth Veneskey

Could you tell me more about enCncourage Kids Foundation?

We started as a WISH Foundation, 32 years ago. The founders saw a kid that was sick and decided they would grant that child a wish and then began doing so all around the country. We did that for a while but as wishes became more expensive for us to execute, we started looking at other programming, specifically in hospital programming. One of our programs, the escape program, allows children and families to participate in different activities like go to 6 Flags Great Adventures , movie dates in the summer for them, and a our enCourage Kids Night at Citi Field which serves at least 800 people.

We hosted almost 100 escape events last year and this year we’re celebrating 21 years of Pediatric Hospital support where we were given 15 million dollars to support over 850 projects in hospitals. The majority of our work is in the hospital, really supporting the pediatric team as these children go through surgeries and other life changes.

Serving up Smiles Event
Photography by Elizabeth Veneskey

It was impactful year for enCourage Kids Foundation, How did you end up starting Serving up Smiles? What is to be expected at the event?

We used to do this auction, and we hosted it for 25 years. It was back in the day when the athletes didn’t have their own charities yet, we had models and celebrities in attendance and then the climate changed. The athletes started doing their own events and it really started becoming labor intensive. When I took over as ED, I was invited to go the South Eastern’s chapter’s Red Ball and it was a tasting event. I loved this! It was just so much fun trying the different foods and I thought it would be great to do something similar.

We have an amazing band, Live Wire Entertainment,  and it’s really a fun event for the guest. They have the opportunity to talk, walk around and get to know one another and still participate in the auction which opens up a week before. The chef’s love it and we try to make an effort to go back and support them after the event, and our board members actively support them as well. Giselle Dean Miller, who’s Vice President of Special Events, does a great job finding the chefs and sharing our story with them and bringing them on board.

Serving up Smiles
Photography by Elizabeth Veneskey

How do you try to make the culinary aspect apart of the event once guest leave?

We have fun favors for the event that we do every year which are culinary inspired. We gave away these custom cutting boards and last year we did a whisk and everyone really loved them. Our auction is also full of culinary inspired experiences, trips, and restaurant related activities.

For more information about enCourage Kids Foundation, visit their website. Tickets for Serving up Smiles can be found here and if you’re unable to attend, you can still participate in their Silent Auction.