Through tragedy, Jen Hidinger-Kendrick, co-founder of Giving Kitchen, created a way to support friends in the hospitality community. After expanding into Tennessee only two years ago, Giving Kitchen is hosting their inaugural Tennessee Tasting on April 23. Find out more about Giving Kitchen and this important organization!

Tell us about Giving Kitchen: How and why did it start?

Giving Kitchen’s origin story starts with my late husband, chef Ryan Hidinger. He was diagnosed with late-stage gallbladder cancer in December of 2012 and given six months to live. The Atlanta restaurant community rallied around us in such a powerful way, raising money for Ryan’s treatment and showing up for us in spectacular ways.

Our community put on a huge fundraising event, “Team Hidi” (Ryan’s nickname was Hidi), and it raised more money than we could have imagined. Ryan looked at me and said, “I want this to be for everybody.” And so together with our co-founders, we created Giving Kitchen so that other food service workers could feel that support, that love that we felt when our world turned upside down. In 2013, Giving Kitchen became a 501(c)3 nonprofit; Ryan passed away in 2014. We’ve been working ever since to grow the organization and I’m proud to say that we now help thousands of food service workers nationwide.

Who does Giving Kitchen help?

Giving Kitchen helps food service workers in crisis. “Food service workers” encompasses people nationwide who work in catering, concessions, restaurants, food trucks, cafeterias, bars, and taprooms. We offer referrals to community resources such as housing support, family and social services, and mental and physical health support. We also offer financial assistance to help pay living expenses for food service workers experiencing an injury, illness, the death of an immediate family member, or a housing disaster like a flood or fire. Many food service workers are uninsured or underinsured, and often don’t have any savings or safety net. We help bridge the gap between crisis and stability.

What are you most excited about with your expansion into Tennessee?

We are so excited to help even more food service workers! Since Giving Kitchen expanded to Tennessee in 2021, we have provided over $360,000 in financial assistance to Tennessee food service workers across 163 awards. This assistance paid for 21.3 years of rent and utility assistance to households containing 115 children. We estimate that 119 of these food service workers and 84 of their children avoided homelessness because of this assistance.

We are on track to serve hundreds more in Tennessee this year and thousands more in the years to come. Nationwide, we’ve provided over $8.4 million in financial aid and helped over 12,200 food service workers in crisis.

What can guests expect from the Giving Kitchen Tennessee Tasting event?

On April 23, we have a dozen local chefs bringing their A-game to Giving Kitchen’s Tennessee Tasting. Guests can meander through the space at The Bedford to visit each chef’s table to dine and talk to the chefs themselves about their food. We’ve got a fun bar with wine, beer, cocktails (both the boozy and the booze-free variety). We’ve got some James Beard-nominated chefs in the lineup, and some local favorites with a cult following. Guests should definitely come hungry. (Click here for the full list of participating restaurants.)

We’ll also have live music (I mean, c’mon, it’s Music City!) and I’ll be there to speak a bit about Giving Kitchen, along with Mayor John Cooper who will be there showing his support. It’s gonna be a party!

How will the Giving Kitchen’s Tennessee Tasting event help the Nashville community?

Giving Kitchen signature events like Tennessee Tasting are an opportunity for us all to come together in celebration of and support for the food service industry. This event will raise crucial funds that go directly to our mission of helping food service workers, but it’s also a chance for us to share our story with more people who can both support GK and benefit from our services. The more that people talk about Giving Kitchen, the more food service workers we can help!