The Big Chef Little Chef Competition is arguably one of the most fun food events of the year. What can’t be argued is that this event is for a great cause, with money raised going to fight childhood obesity. As in previous years, this event features some of Charleston’s finest chefs who have been paired up 11 “little chef” contestants. The chef teams create a healthy recipe and the crowd picks the winner. This year’s event will be tinged with a little bit of sadness as Louis Yuhasz, Founder of Louie’s Kids, will be stepping down and relinquishing his position as CEO. After 11 years, Yuhasz is ready to hand the job to someone else, but will remain committed to Louie’s Kids as a board member and a volunteer.
How did Louie’s Kids begin?
Louie's Kids was born in honor of an extraordinary man who died too soon at 550 pounds. He suffered a stroke and had to have the front window of his house removed to get him into the ambulance. Hospital after hospital turned him away because no one wanted to deal with the obese man who'd had a stroke. He died, shamefully, six months later in hospital number seven. That man was my father, Louis "big Louie" Yuhasz. I vowed at the time of his passing that I would see to it that another child would not follow in his path. Little did I know obesity would indeed be killing a nation of people; I fear it will be this generation’s shame and greatest regret.
How has the organization evolved?
11 years later we are the only national non-profit that is assisting children to find and pay for resources to help them lose weight and get in better shape. From weight-loss camps for kids from my hometown of Alexandria, VA, where my dad worked for 46 years, to assisting hundreds of kids in everything from YMCA memberships, behavioral counseling, nutrition and fitness counseling, and after-school programs, you name it and we've helped a kid get it and pay for it. Louie's kids is now my ‘family business.’ It's a part of me and it fulfills a purpose in my life. I know that my dad would be very proud.
And then there is the Big Chef Little Chef Competition. How does this play a role?
Big Chef Little Chef means so much to me. I have been in the hospitality industry all of my professional life. I was 13 years old when I got my first job in a crab house in Old Town, Alexandria. I have worked in 5-stars and pub bars; the restaurant business is a part of me. I attended hotel school and years later went to Johnson and Wales for a culinary degree. To combine my love of the industry, introduce my kids to food and cooking, and celebrate these great chefs is incredibly humbling to me. I adore this event.
After 11 years at the helm of Louie's Kids, why leave now?
Most people who know me know that Louie’s Kids will never leave me, it's just time to let my baby leave the nest and it's time I challenge myself in a new way. 11 years is an incredible run and I'll remain an advocate, volunteer and engaged board member. I'm really very passionate about food stamp reform and really helping families make better choices.
What are your plans for the future?
It’s time for a challenge. I can't imagine it won’t include my previous life and former business successes within the food and beverage industry.
Was it initially difficult to get chefs to sign on to the Big Chef Little Chef Competition?
Never. Marc Collins, a total trailblazer, Michelle Weaver, Craig Deihl, and Joseph Jacobson signed on immediately and every year another chef asks us to come on board, which is such an honor. There are not many events like this that include the kids who are benefitting from the event itself. I think that it is extraordinary.
Why do a fundraiser that revolves around food?
To instruct these kids in the kitchen on the same principles they've learned in our programs is priceless. Each one of these kids will walk away with a healthy recipe and they will know how to prepare the dish.
What is your favorite Big Chef Little Chef moment?
Wow, what do I say? I'll tell you going with these kids to meet their chefs is a pretty awesome thing to take part in. To watch each chef and kid get to know one another is just really cool. Also, seeing each team lined up at the finish is really very emotional for me. I know how hard the kids have worked with us and for this event, and I know it's a labor of love for the chefs. FIG’s Mike Lata, after spending an afternoon with his little chef, turned to his staff and I and said, “This is the best thing we do all year." You can’t put a price on that.
If you had to pick, which Charleston chef would be the Louie's Kids MVP?
No way, I’m not going there! Every single one of these men and women represent what is best in Charleston's food scene. Each one sincerely has a place at the Louie's Kids table and also a place in my heart. We are indeed fulfilling our mission as an organization, fighting obesity ...one kid at a time!
The Fourth Annual Piggly Wiggly Big Chef Little Chef Competition is coming up on Thursday, June 14th. Participating chefs: Mike Lata of FIG, Nico Romo of Fish, Marc Collins of Circa 1886, Cary Zapatka of Square Onion, Craig Deihl of Cypress, John Zucker of Cru Cafe, John Ondo of Lana, Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill, Kevin Johnson of The Grocery, Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh and Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca.
· Louie's Kids [Official Site]