Barbie Stern is seated in a large, comfortable armchair in her living room. Sunlight streams into the room through open windows, leaving huge golden blobs on the floor. A large black cat lounges on the rug in the center; books and papers are scattered; and a laptop is perched precariously on Barbie’s lap. It’s clearly a busy morning as Barbie juggles multiple assignments and phone calls related to publishing a beautiful cookbook in the next few weeks with the express purpose of raising money to feed children.
Barbie’s family had been in the food service equipment business since the 1890’s – so it made sense that she grew up working in restaurants. Thanks to the guidance of the Comisar brothers, Lee and Michael J., she would ultimately learn to cook at the Maisonette as an intern under the watchful eye of Executive Chef, George Haidon. She’d just completed her freshman year at the Cornell Hotel School and when she graduated a few years later, many of her classmates went on to become chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers around the world. After working in hotel and restaurant operations for a few years, she accepted a position with Procter and Gamble working in Marketing, Sales, B2B and Retail. Over time she would work with a specialized team building new businesses and business models.
Barbie also had a passion for philanthropy. Her relationship with the Freestore Foodbank started years ago when in 2001 she became closely involved in the establishment of Cincinnati COOKS! . When she retired from P&G in 2007 Barbie resolved to find ways to raise money to help others. “I had always wanted to work for a foundation of some sort. I wanted to create something that would quietly make a difference helping others. I wanted to do something that made sense in the market.” she observes. Her involvement with the Freestore Foodbank drew her to the problem of childhood hunger.
In the fall of 2011, Barbie was having dinner with Hotel School friends in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. As she watched her friends, Bob and Michele, cooking dinner for friends who were coming over that night, Barbie was struck by the thought that her friends in the culinary world who all shared a passion for food, might be able to pool their resources and build something of value to sell on an ongoing basis, providing funds that could be used to feed hungry kids. And the more she thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense.
Upon returning home to Cincinnati, Barbie got to work on her plan almost immediately. She called her old friends from Cornell and started to compile their favorite recipes. “I asked for recipes of dishes they cooked at home,” she explained. “You never serve at home what you cook in your restaurants. So, this was supposed to include something guests would possibly want to know about their favorite restaurants – what’s for dinner when the owners and chefs go home. I wanted the book to be personalized and intimate – meant for people who like to cook and find enjoyment in trying out new recipes.” The idea was an instantaneous hit with her friends. “I would start telling them about the idea,” Barbie remembers. “And about two sentences in, they’d say they’re committed and promise to do whatever it took to make our mission successful.” The singular goal of the project is to provide a sustainable revenue stream to feed kids through Feeding America’s programs such as the Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack program. The urgency of the mission drew people to the project.
Dinner With Our Friends wouldn’t be where it is today without the two friends Barbie enlisted to help her – Dennis Coskie and Steve Nechemias. By trade, Dennis is an industrial engineer. But he is also an accomplished cook and skilled manager. Dennis was the founding Director of Cincinnati COOKS! and both developed and managed the program for the first ten years. He launched a Catering Company within Cincinnati COOKS! called Cincinnati Cooks Catering and a more advanced culinary course called Second Course for COOKS! graduates so that students can come back and build their skills so that they are prepared for greater responsibilities and higher wages. Steve Nechemias is a recently retired member of the Tax Department of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. Together, the friends founded a non-profit organization called Dinner With Our Friends, a 501 (c)(3) with Barbie as President and Founder, Dennis as Secretary and Steve as Treasurer. T.J. Vissing, President of OMS Photography joined the group and he brought the book to life with gorgeous pictures. Mike Gompf did all the graphic design work to transform Dinner With Our Friends from an idea to a reality.
The book Dinner with our Friends, a magical project that has drawn support from all quarters, is scheduled to be released in mid-October, 2018. It will be a high resolution, “coffee table” style book featuring a collection of delectable recipes from talented chefs across the nation. The hope is that every book sold will provide Power Packs for five children in the tristate region who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend. The book will sell for $35.00 with all funds from the sale after payment of expenses going directly towards Feeding America programs geared towards feeding children such as the Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack program. We are excited and honored to be part of this wonderful project. To learn more about Dinner with our Friends go to https://bit.ly/2ze3qdp