Alton Brown: food for thought at Hopelink luncheon

Food Network host Alton Brown addresses the crowd about the importance of Hopelink at the organization
Food Network host Alton Brown addresses the crowd about the importance of Hopelink at the organization's Reaching Out Benefit Luncheon today at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center.
— image credit: Andy Nystrom, Redmond Reporter

Alton Brown is a firm believer that home cooking can bring the philosophy of self-reliance from the notebook to the kitchen stove.

"Cooking at home fixes almost everything," Brown told a crowd of almost 1,800 strong at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center on Monday during Hopelink's 20th Annual Reaching Out Luncheon to benefit the Redmond-based organization, which reached its goal of raising $1 million. The funds will provide food, shelter, family development, transportation and job readiness skills for homeless and low-income families, children, seniors and people with disabilities in north and east King County.

"Cooking at home gives you better nutrition, far better cost per meal, it's family building. Families that cook together often stay together. It gives you confidence, it creates community," added the quirky, award-winning Food Network personality.

Before the luncheon, Brown told the Reporter that as a child, he always hung around the kitchen with his aunts, grandmothers and mother, soaking up the familial, culinary atmosphere of voices and laughter and pots and pans clanking about.

"I always liked being in the kitchen. Usually, 'cause there was something good to lick. Let's face it, they're fun places to be and tasty places to be," said Brown, who noted that he got into cooking to attract girls in college.

"I had a pathetic social life and I found that girls that would say 'no' when you asked them out, and you offered to cook for them, were often intrigued enough to actually go home with you," he added. "Then you have to back it up with skills. It worked out OK, but then I found that it was just really great to be able to do anyway. And then I kind of got addicted to this self-reliance of it, you know, 'I'm gonna make my own bacon, I don't need anybody to make my bacon for me' and stuff like that."

After college, Brown delved into a career of directing TV commercials, but cooking was always a part of his life as a hobby. When he decided he wanted to make TV shows about cooking, he enrolled at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt., to get things rolling.

A few decades and many successes later, Brown received an invitation from Hopelink about seven or eight months ago to be the guest speaker at this year's luncheon.

Brown researched the organization and was intrigued by its system of getting people out of poverty.

"Organizations that are just into relief tend to create dependency in a lot of ways because they just keep giving stuff away. That helps to stabilize people — in the long run, you've gotta have a plan for getting people out the door in a different place," Brown told the Reporter.

Brown said Hopelink's keys are referring to people in need as clients, whom they closely counsel because everybody is different and everybody's situation is different.

Also featured at the luncheon were in-person and on-video testimonials from clients who were once homeless and have benefitted from Hopelink's services.

While entering their new Hopelink abode, sisters Sae and Nora El Naby said, "I'm home and I'm looking forward to tomorrow" and "it felt great, liberating, safe. To look around and set goals — dream again." Their mother, Barbara, was a luncheon co-chair along with Jesse Navarro, both Hopelink clients.

In another video, client Ritty So told her son about Hopelink lending them a hand, "There are angels all around us."

Added Brown: "So, to me it seems to really be an organization that is actually pulling off what they say they're trying to do. I only wish they could spread down in my neck of the woods, because we could use some Hopelink down in Georgia, that's for sure."

Brown feels that luncheon attendees had a rare gem of an opportunity to actually invest in changing human beings' lives through donations. He wrote out a check and made an investment on the spot, noting that he hopes the local organization spreads and plants seeds in other communities across the country.

During his luncheon speech, Brown focused on hospitality and how it's a crucial part of human connectivity that Hopelink strives to achieve. He mentioned that he's spoken with people who have battled their way out of poverty and twice they noted that cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for others were the highlights of getting back on their feet again.

With the crowd looking on, nodding their heads and some people softly clapping, Brown continued his story with another poignant message: "Once you learn how to cook, you learn enough about ingredients to feed people — the sharing of that blessing. The blessing of being able to pass on food, love, something of yourself to other people is an amazingly potent and powerful tool."

Brown added that sharing one's cooking gives people pride, self-respect and dignity, which should be the goal of anyone who is trying to take care of the problem of poverty.


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