Ken Oringer on Why You Should Attend Boston Bites Back

With just under a week left to buy tickets, Oringer breaks down what to expect at the biggest local food event of the year.

Ken Oringer Ming Tsai informal

photo courtesy of marlo mc.

By now, you have (or should have) read about Boston Bites Back, a massive fundraiser for the One Fund that was organized by local megachefs Ken Oringer and Ming Tsai. But if you haven’t, here’s the event in a nutshell: there will be over 100 chefs taking over the concession stands in Fenway Park on May 15, doling out bites of food, which will be paired with free-flowing wine and beer, for the 5,000 attendees that purchase tickets (be one of them: buy tickets here). At $200 a pop—and $1,000 each for VIP tickets, which buy access to a more exclusive event with Oringer and Tsai—the tickets are admittedly pricey, but the funds go directly to the One Fund to benefit victims of the Boston Marathon bomings. In short, it’s beyond worth it. And if Oringer and Tsai’s goal of 5,000 attendees is met, the event will raise a staggering $1M for the fund. We gave Oringer a call to learn more about what’s in store.

How did the event come together?
Pretty much the night of the bombing. Ming and I started talking a little bit, about how we should do something. We said, ‘we both have big personalities, so lets do something huge.’ We really wanted to bring the community together, and the industry together, and everyone from all different facets: Mayor Tom Menino, Governor Deval Patrick, and [John Henry], the owner of the Red Socks. They were so generous to host it in Fenway Park. We thought that would be the typical Boston experience, and everyone can show their pride and their strength right in Fenway.

How has it evolved since then? Is there a mandate for what type of food will be served?
We always set the goal for 100 chefs, and for 5,000 people to come. After walking around Fenway, we counted the concession stands and wanted to gear the menu towards [the equipment]. Some chefs are cooking with the hot dog rollers, some with the conveyor belt pizza oven, some with the griddles. We left it open for everyone to do whatever they wanted to do, they just have to work within the parameters of a ballpark. It’s like that Top Chef episode, because there’s no [high-end] equipment, no ovens, nothing.

You’ve thrown many a food event in the past. How does this compare?
For 5,000 people and 100 chefs, it’s pretty insane. Ming and I decided that we should give up our business and go in to the party planning business instead. It’s been great. Every chef was like, “I want in.” Same with all of the vendors, Sam Adams and Harpoon and Bud, and all of the wine companies. That’s a lot of wine and beer for 5,000 people. Same for Aramark, [a sponsor]. It’s just been such a fulfilling experience.

So how does the fundraising work? Are chefs donating the food served, or will ticket prices partially cover that cost?

We are not taking a dime, and we are not giving a dime [to the chefs]. All of the money goes straight to One Fund. A million dollars will be raised from the 5,000 tickets, plus there’s an additional 200 people in the VIP section, and then the auction items as well.

Any auction items you’re particularly excited about?
One of them is my dream come true, to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park. All of the auction items go until the end of the month.

How far do you have to go before you hit your goal?
Ticket sales have been accelerating tremendously every day. When you only have two weeks to sell, it’s pretty important. It’s accelerating tremendously, but we are still not there yet. We are getting there.

Why is Boston’s food community so well suited for an event like this?
It’s in a chef’s DNA to be nurturing and to want to feed people. When times are down, people feel strength and comfort from each other sitting down at a table and being together. That’s the whole premise for the event. Food is the metaphor to care for everyone, and to show our strength and unity and pride. It’s not necessarily a party, but it will be an enjoyable evening. We just want to raise money.

Also, one last (very important) question: Do you know what shirt you’ll wear?
(Laughs) I’ll be wearing my chef jacket.

Purchase tickets to Boston Bites Back here.