Several months ago, the folks at Children’s of Alabama asked me to become involved with a new event. The event, called Children’s Table, brings together some of Alabama’s best chefs who will be cooking for a cause.

While our community has no shortage of philanthropic events, this one stood out because it merges the strengths of our culinary and publishing communities. As someone who has written about Birmingham restaurants and been part of our media community for a long time, my answer was a resounding ‘yes.”

Children’s Table at Time Inc. Food Studios March 3 at the Time Inc. Food Studios, will feature tastings by chefs, as well as demonstrations by editors and food professionals from Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Southern Living, and Time Inc. Books.

It’s not often that folks get a chance to visit the Food Studios. For the seven years I worked at Southern Living as an editor, a chance to visit the Test Kitchen was the number one request from friends and strangers alike. (People were a little disappointed when I just showed them my office — look at the spreadsheets!) Since then, Time Inc. (which was recently acquired by Meredith) unveiled beautiful Food Studios, where recipes are tested, photos and videos are shot, and magic happens each day.

The Children’s Table will feature ten featured chefs, including Chris Hastings, the James-Beard award winning chef and owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club and Ovenbird Restaurant; Bill Briand, James-Beard nominated chef at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach; Rob McDaniel, James-Beard nominated executive chef at Springhouse; James Boyce, chef and owner of Galley & Garden. Abhi Sainju of Abhi’s, and MS chef Elizabeth Heiskell of The Farmstead on Woodson Ridge.

Throughout the evening, chefs will be sampling their creations in Time Inc. Food Studios, which feature 28 test kitchens, 13 photo and video studios, a prop and styling studio, and an expansive showcase kitchen and tasting room. (Trust me, it’s worth going just to see the prop rooms.)

Proceeds from the event will specifically benefit nutrition programs for Children’s patients on the dialysis unit. Children receiving dialysis and treatment for kidney failure often become enamored with cooking out of necessity. That’s because these kids require a special diet that’s much different than their healthier peers, ays Perrin Bickert, Clinical Nutritionist at Children’s of Alabama. Through the nutrition program a Children’s, these patients and their families learn what kinds of foods they can and can’t eat, and how to prepare foods within their special dietary guidelines.

“When our kids are on dialysis they can’t have foods that contain potassium or sodium or phosphorous, which cuts out dairy, nuts and seeds and some fruits and vegetables,” she says. “What’s considered ‘healthy’ for other children isn’t necessarily healthy for our patients.” For instance, even simple foods like whole wheat bread need to be avoided.

Perrin and her colleagues work with patients and their families to teach them about what they can and can’t eat, working to make cooking and nutrition fun. It’s a careful balancing act, as the them works to find creative ways to provide the right calories and proteins in foods children want to eat. (As she notes, it can be tough enough to find foods kids want to eat, but when there are dietary restrictions, additional challenges can ensue.)

Some patients require carefully designed liquid formulas and supplements designed to support kids health and continued growth. These foods, supplements, and educational programs are expensive. Many of the patients come from economically challenged homes, and funds raised from Children’s Table will help defray the mounting costs of care their parents face.

These children look up to chefs, watching cooking shows during dialysis and dreaming about what they too can create with food.

For Chris Hastings, this resonates deeply. He says the connection between Birmingham’s restaurant, medical and publishing communities is a natural one.

 “We’re passionate about spreading the gospel of healthy, sustainably grown local foods and educating people beyond what we do in our restaurants. So much of health comes from what we eat. And when you see what Children’s is doing to help the kids who come through those doors — how could we not be part of this?”

Children’s Table is more than a one-time-event. As part of the partnership, Time Inc. food professionals have visited the dialysis unit to cook with the patients. Perrin provides them with details about the kinds of ingredients to avoid and include and they develop recipes that the children can enjoy.

The goal is to make food, nutrition and cooking fun for these patients, and to inspire them that they can be like those chefs they watch on TV, and the ones whose recipes are in the pages of magazines.

“For these kids, food is aspirational,” Perrin says. “They dream about what they are going to eat some day. We hear so many of them say, ‘After I get my new kidney, I’m going to have pizza!’”


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