Food for Thought: Chefs Get Personal in UNICHEF Special

For some cooks, the kitchen isn’t the only place to make a contribution.  On Tuesday, November 17, TLC and Discovery Family Channel explore the lives of three celebrity chefs and their missions to give back to the community in Unichef: Uniting Through Food. The show is based on the best-selling book by Hilary Gumbel (all royalties are donated to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF), who tells Cynopsis how it all came about.

Cynopsis: What is Unichef?

 Hilary Gumbel: UniChef is the title of a book I created in order to raise support for UNICEF. I am proud to serve on the board of directors of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the cookbook was a fun way to broaden awareness for their important work. Whenever I’ve traveled to observe the work of UNICEF firsthand, in places like Senegal, Haiti or Guatemala I’ve often found that food is the common bond. Mothers share the common purpose of providing nutrition to their children, families pass on lifelong traditions through food, and all communities come together to celebrate with food. Since chefs know and appreciate how much food connects us all, the goal was to reach out to a diverse list of celebrity chefs to provide a personal anecdote and a recipe. I wanted to weave together a culinary experience for the whole family to enjoy with the end goal of also helping children and their families throughout the world. These culinary superstars understood how much their participation would help and gave unselfishly. The sale of each cookbook generates a nice donation since 100% of my royalties go directly to UNICEF.

 Cynopsis: How did you become involved in the TV project?

 Gumbel: In an effort to broaden the reach of the cookbook it made sense to partner with a network. TLC and Discovery Family are deeply committed to bringing families together as well as expressing a sense of compassion and community; so our values aligned. I am honored to partner with such an amazing and dedicated team.

Hilary Gumbel in Haiti during a field visit

Hilary Gumbel in Haiti during a field visit

Cynopsis: Who is the audience for the special?

Gumbel: The hope is that foodies and families alike will enjoy the personal and nuanced stories of each of our chefs. We were granted exclusive access to three world-renowned chefs, who allowed us that access because they are excited to share their stories but also their passion for helping others through their humanitarian work. Ming Tsai, Donatella Arpaia and Sandra Lee each have a deep commitment to making a difference in the lives of children and families. Whether you are an accomplished cook or simply enjoy getting to know these amazing stars up close; you can’t help but be touched by their stories, not to mention the wonderful ways they are changing and saving lives.

Cynopsis: As the wife of Bryant Gumbel you’re hardly a stranger to TV, but what were challenges producing this special that you hadn’t expected?

Gumbel: This was and is a collaborative effort. It wouldn’t have happened without the extraordinary chefs, the devoted teams at both TLC and Discovery Family and all of us uniting toward something beyond ourselves. If we have had any challenges, they have been minor. The rewards are many: the opportunity to share the personal journeys of these celebrated chefs; the chance to showcase the important work to which each is dedicating their time and resources; and the reward of sharing their success stories; all play a part in a special that we hope will inspire others and have a positive impact.

Cynopsis: Do you see further extensions for Unichef?

Gumbel: It has been such a joy to work on the television special; a wonderful way to demonstrate our humanity and inspire unity. I have not considered what may be next as I want to stay focused on seeing this through.


Unichef: Uniting Through Food airs Thursday, November 17 at 7p on TLC, followed by an encore presentation on Discovery Family Channel at 9p.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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