Last year, Chef Steve McHugh and his team at Cured raised a whopping $28,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) at the annual Cured for a Cure dinner, which McHugh, a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, credits with “essentially saving (his) life.”

McHugh plans to raise the stakes for this year’s LLS, five-course fundraising dinner – which is set for Sunday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. – by inviting an eclectic mix of culinary heavy-hitters to participate, including fellow lymphoma survivor Chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, Chef Justin Carlisle of Milwaukee’s Ardent, Chef Jonatán Gómez Luna of Le Chique in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and San Antonio’s Chef John Brand of Supper.

“I’m so excited for them to come to town and cook,” McHugh told the Rivard Report. “Last year I felt like it was flawless – I have such a good team helping me – but one thing I didn’t foresee was how important it was for my staff to work with these other chefs. I forget how small the community in San Antonio is. I’m excited about that the most – that they get to see these other talented chefs, and to me, that’s awesome.”

Concurrently, McHugh wants to shine a light on the local talent as well, so he invited his good friend, Brand, to join in on the fun. In terms of fundraising efforts, McHugh considers this type of event, where attendees get to eat delicious food for a great cause, to be the best of both worlds.

“Why not have a nice dinner and give to charity? To me that’s a win-win,” he said.

Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of a selection of cured meats. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Steve McHugh stands in front of a selection of cured meats. Photo by Scott Ball.

Hopkins, who first met McHugh in 2014 at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival and calls himself a “geek for Texas,” is delighted with the growing community of national chefs.

“The (camaraderie) of chefs and communities is more and more what appeals to me about this business,” Hopkins said. “I see that there are no differences. The sacredness of food and our food community, the strength of our chefs…we just throw great parties and it’s delicious.”

When Hopkins refers to the sacredness of food, he’s talking about clean, local food that is grown by people you know. He largely attributes his own success of beating cancer to his diet which, at the time, included eating black truffles every morning.

“We’re in a symbiotic relationship with everything around us. We’re toxifying our environment and our bodies aren’t keeping up,” he said. “That’s why I like the word ‘cured.’ We don’t need chemicals in our pickles, we just need to know how to pickle.”

Fans of Cured know that McHugh also is conscientious about the ingredients he sources.

“We stay away from processed foods as much as possible,” he said. “We have a philosophy of processing as much (as we can) in-house. I’m constantly seeing what’s new out there, what’s fun and different.”

When McHugh asked Hopkins to participate in the dinner, Hopkins immediately jumped at the chance.

“If I’m going to devote my time and effort, I need to be engaged,” Hopkins said. “My job is to get rid of charities forever. We need to end cancer forever.”

Hopkins’ own experience with cancer had an upside, he added.

“It woke me out of a bit of selfishness that I can fall into. You have to be grateful and thankful every single day,” he said. “It takes you down simple ways – generosity, kindness, doubt, fear, tears, joy – you’re with your people watching bad TV in the chemo ward together, cracking jokes. It’s amazing, the human spirit.”

Hopkins said he plans on bringing Georgia chicken, the key ingredient for his “Chicken Scratch Corn,” for McHugh’s charity dinner. The dish features poached chicken breast with an onion ash crust, chicken cracklins, chicken livers, creamed corn, and freshly dressed, local arugula.

“If I cook what I want to eat right now, it turns out a lot of people want to eat that (too),” he said. “Trust me, if I don’t want to eat it, I’m not cooking it.”

McHugh’s only guidance to his guest chefs when devising their dishes was to represent themselves and cook whatever they felt comfortable doing. Since nobody wants to make dessert this year, the onus will fall on the Cured team, which will whip up a New Orleans-style Doberge cake made with blue corn pinole, lemon curd, and a lavender ganache.

Tickets to the five-course Cured for a Cure dinner are $350 per person. They can be purchased here, and are selling out quickly.

Top image: A Friday night dinner service at Cured.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Kimberly A. Suta is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur with a background in marketing and advertising. She has always had a passion and appreciation for the arts, in all its many permutations.