Chef Matt Selby wins first Noel Cunningham award for his commitment to end child hunger in Colorado
Twenty-five years ago, Noel Cunningham, along with Pat Miller, the "Gabby Gourmet", launched Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation, a nonprofit childhood hunger relief organization that Cunningham, the former owner/chef of Strings, worked tirelessly to grow and advocate.
Lori Midson Chef Matt Selby and Tammy Cunningham, owner of Strings.
It soon blossomed into an annual event, where dozens of the city's top chefs communed under the same roof to cook and raise money. Cunningham then started Quarters for Kids, which educated children about homelessness and hunger, and then he stretched his altruism even further with 4Quarters for Kids, a nonprofit that raises funds to educate and feed children in Ethiopia. And in 2003, he and his wife, Tammy, now the sole owner of Strings, started the Cunningham Foundation, which has raised more than $750,000 for struggling Ethiopians.
When Cunningham committed suicide in December of last year, everyone who knew him mourned, shocked that a man who gave so much to others, a man who was arguably one of the most benevolent human beings this city has ever seen, would take his own life. He had a successful restaurant; he was was married and has two twin daughters; he was changing the world.
And we're still grieving his loss, although Cunningham wouldn't want that -- not for a second -- but he would, I know, want his legacy to live on, manifesting itself in others, who share the same commitment and devotion he did to eradicating childhood hunger and poverty, in Colorado, and around the world.
A few months ago, the Taste of the Nation committee, which includes local chefs, restaurateurs, pubic relations folks and other industry members, was sitting in a meeting at the local Share Our Strength office, and part of the discussions included deciding upon a venue to host a chef appreciation party, an event that takes place every year prior to the actual Taste of the Nation event. Stefanie Jones, who does PR for Strings, suggested the committee host the event there. "It didn't take long for all of us to realize that having it at Strings was exactly what we should do," says Leigh Sullivan, who sits on the committee. "Taste of the Nation started at Strings, and hosting the chef appreciation party there meant bringing it back to its roots."
And then Sullivan had what she calls a "light bulb moment." The committee, she recalls, wanted to do something special to honor Noel, and what better way to do that, mused Sullivan, than to bestow a local chef with an award that recognized his or her own pledge to end childhood hunger? "God knows Noel did more for the community than he did for himself, and we wanted to give an award that honored both Noel and another chef who's really giving back to the community," adds Sullivan.