Take about 20 of Maine’s best chefs cooking signature bites, throw in some sparkling wine and spirits, add a dash of live entertainment, then serve it all against an Atlantic Ocean backdrop, and you have one delicious event.

The Taste of the Nation benefit organized by the Maine chapter of Share Our Strength seems to get a little better every year. And it raises more money every year for a really good cause — ending childhood hunger in Maine.

This year’s event will be held 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Pay a little more and arrive at 3 p.m. for a wine and spirit tasting reception.

If you love going to Maine restaurants, Taste of the Nation is the opportunity for you to sample food from a variety of kitchens and rub elbows with well-known chefs who show up to lend their culinary star power to the event.

This year, along with “regulars” such as Back Bay Grill, Fore Street, Hugo’s, Cinque Terre, The Farmer’s Table and Five Fifty-Five, there are several new restaurants on board, including Cleonice, Grace, Havana South, the Black Point Inn, Petite Jacqueline and Duckfat.

Another addition this year is a live auction to go along with the silent auction.


“The first (live) auction item is coming to us from (actress) Liv Tyler,” said John Woods, chair of the event. “She’s sending up a bag that has her name embroidered inside. She’s unable to come this year, but she’s someone who has become a real friend of ours.”

One of the Taste of the Nation sponsors, Bill Dodge Auto Group, has donated a BMW 328xi to be auctioned off, and there will be culinary packages put together by Maine restaurants. (See box.)

Other live and silent auction items include gift certificates to Maine restaurants, autographed books on food and wine, and Red Sox tickets.

Woods is hoping to beat last year’s event, which netted $80,000 to help the one in four Maine children who go to bed hungry at night.

“People, I think, would be surprised to know that there are 60,000 children across the state who don’t know where their next nutritious meal is coming from,” Woods said. “I’m a father of four, and they’re ages 4 years old to 12 years old. I know, when they think about summer, they think about going to the beach and barbecues and family and fun stuff.

“But for 60,000 kids around the state, and that’s one in four, summer to them is a horrifying thought because many of them get their food at school. They get their only nutritious meal at school, and when they go home, there’s no food there.”


Those statistics, though the most current available, are old and almost certainly even worse now, considering the way the economy is limping along.

Funds raised by this year’s Taste of the Nation event will go to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Cultivating Community, East End Kids Katering and the Preble Street Teen Center.

“The Preble Street Teen Center is this place of last resort for kids that are ages 13-19,” Woods said. “These are children who really do not have a home, or should not be in their homes for a number of really good reasons. They take these kids in, and they give them a place to feel safe, to be fed and sheltered.”

Woods views Share Our Strength as the fundraising arm of these charitable organizations, raising money for them so they can concentrate on their day-to-day business.

In that spirit, he has recently been expanding Share Our Strength’s reach in Maine, developing other fundraising opportunities to build on the flagship Taste of the Nation event. A spring dinner at Hugo’s featuring chefs Rob Evans and Sam Hayward raised an astounding $50,000 for the cause — thanks in large part to the chefs’ willingness to auction off their skills for private dinners.

Share Our Strength Maine was also the sole beneficiary of the “Art of Dining” series at the Kennebunkport Festival, and raised another $20,000 there.


Woods has even bigger plans for Taste of the Nation. He’d like to see more local sponsors brought on board, for one thing.

“We’re going in the right direction, and I do think the Taste of the Nation Maine will end up being around a $350,000 event when I’m through with it,” he said. “I think that’s the right number. It’s going to take another couple of years to get there.”

Until then, indulge in another evening of good food and wine, and know that you’re taking a bite out of hunger.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

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