Leavening cooking with social action

Leavening cooking with social action

Kosher-chef-whiz-kid Eitan Bernath turns to social action as he works to feed the hungry

Eitan Bernath is on a farm near the ancient city of Patna, in Bihar, India.
Eitan Bernath is on a farm near the ancient city of Patna, in Bihar, India.

Teaneck native son Eitan Bernath, soon turning 22, began earning himself a seat at the table reserved for TV and social-media culinary stars with his appearance on the cooking game show “Chopped” when he was 11.

Mr. Bernath, who prepared Indian flatbread with Bill Gates last December and teaches Drew Barrymore how to make treats like rugelach as part of his regular gig on her eponymous show, has been named a high-level supporter of the United Nations World Food Programme.

According to the U.N., WFP is “the world’s largest humanitarian organization saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.”

WFP enlists the voluntary services and support of prominent figures in film, television, music, arts, and sports as goodwill ambassadors, advocates and high-level supporters to bring attention to global hunger.

“From a practical standpoint, that means I will use my various platforms to help elevate the messaging and fundraising of the World Food Programme in the press, social media channels, TV, and live events,” Mr. Bernath said.

“The program is very impactful as a safety net for places in the world that don’t have safety nets like the soup kitchens and food pantries we have in the United States,” he explained.

“Food insecurity is something very important to me. I’ve partnered with City Harvest” — one of New York City’s largest food rescue organizations — “the past few years, and I’m excited and honored to do this work on a global scale.”

While Mr. Bernath does not yet have an official event planned on behalf of WFP, the content he posts publicizing its work has a huge potential impact. His social media channels have a following approaching 10 million. His videos garner 3 billion annual views, reaching more than 350 million consumers in 150 countries.

“There will be bigger moments, like documenting the work they do in the field, but I’m also looking forward to the little ways I can use my reach to help support their work,” he said.

For instance, he noted, WFP “was one of the first organizations delivering emergency food and water in Turkey” after last month’s catastrophic earthquake.

Whether he’s deep-frying steaks or transforming chickpeas into chocolate mousse for the camera, this energetic young chef and cookbook author likes to season his kitchen endeavors with social action.

Doing work unrelated to WFP, he recently was in India for a month, helping document the poverty-alleviation and gender-equity work of such organizations as the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society. This was where he had the opportunity to pan-fry traditional roti flatbread with uber philanthropist Bill Gates.

His videos from India got more than 50 million views, and his visit was covered by hundreds of Indian media outlets. “It was very successful for raising awareness for these programs, and I hope to do similar work for the World Food Programme,” he said.

“The biggest thing I learned from India is how seemingly small things can make such an impact. In Bihar, one organization I partnered with was the Aga Kahn Foundation’s Project Mesha, which trains women in rural Bihar to raise goats. I interviewed a bunch of women in these villages and heard how much even rearing three goats has changed their lives. One woman was able to send her son to medical school in Mumbai from selling one or two of her goats.”

Mr. Bernath, wearing his large Star of David necklace, promotes the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

He also met with wheat and rice farmers who’ve been taught to use an early sowing method to increase yields and thereby earn more income.

“When you look at the work of these organizations, including the World Food Programme that is part of the U.N. and gets funding mainly from the U.S. government as well as private donors, you wonder, ‘How does my $10 contribution help?’ But being on the ground, you see the impact of something as small as a meal on someone’s entire life. When someone worries where their next meal is coming from, they can’t focus on school or work.”

Mr. Bernath traces his interest in doing good to the values instilled by his parents, Sabrina and Jason, and his teachers at the Yavneh Academy and Frisch Yeshiva High School in Paramus.

“When I did my first cooking demonstration at age 12, at Grand & Essex Market in Bergenfield, my parents taught me that I should donate a percentage of my earnings to the charity of my choice,” he said. “I was educated to understand that the money you earn and the privileges you have in life are not just for you, and it’s important to give to those that don’t have those things.

“This is something I deeply care about, and my Jewish upbringing has very much inspired that.”

Mr. Bernath, who now lives in Manhattan, heads his own production company. He was invited to the Biden White House twice, and he was the youngest person ever named to the Forbes list of 30 Under 30 for Food and Drink. He’s also an ambassador to the animal rescue organization Animal Haven.

Barron Segar, president and CEO of World Food Program USA, said, “We’re thrilled to have Eitan join our global effort to solve hunger. It’s critical that young people bring their energy and ideas to this movement. Eitan is the perfect person to help us fight for a more equitable future, where no one goes without food, no matter where they live.”

Among other WFP high-level supporters advocating for improvements in nutrition and food security are South African artist Reggie Khumalo and the Cholitas Escaladoras Maya organization of Bolivian women who scale mountains in traditional attire, flying the flag for the indigenous Aymara people.

Mr. Bernath waves his own flag in the form of the Magen David necklace he frequently wears in his videos and public appearances. “I am a proud Jew, and that’s one reason I’m excited about this,” he said.

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