A pre-Super Bowl “Party with a Purpose” supports a local food bank

Through the Taste of the NFL event, restaurateurs such as Wayne Kostroski (below) and Atlanta’s own Kevin Rathbun (far left, posing with celebrity foodie Andrew Zimmern), have helped raise $26 million for food banks across the nation.

STORY: Mickey Goodman

In 1992, restaurateur Wayne Kostroski was chairman of the restaurant committee for the Super Bowl XXVI Task Force in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “The host committee was looking for ways to distract people from the fact that it would be cold and wanted to heat up the experience,” says Kostroski. “So we came up with the idea of a Party with a Purpose to be held on Super Bowl eve to benefit food banks in all 32 NFL cities. We named it Taste of the NFL and invited top chefs from each city to prepare samples of their best dishes.”

Wayne Kostroski

The event was a sell-out, and the following year, when Los Angeles hosted Super Bowl XXVII, the city duplicated the event. So have the hosts of the Super Bowl in each subsequent year. This year’s big game will be held here in A-Town on Feb. 3 at Mercedes Benz Stadium, and Taste of the NFL will take place on Feb. 2 at the Cobb Galleria Centre, marking both the event and Kostroski’s 28th year. “We measure success by how many meals we’ve been able to generate, and through the years we’ve raised $26 million that provided 220 million meals,” says Kostroski. “The host city receives 15 percent of the proceeds, and the remainder is evenly divided among the other NFL city food banks.”

Both Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun, owner of Rathbun’s, Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak and KR SteakBar, and Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio’s in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and L.A., have been involved with Taste of the NFL for many years. Rathbun began while he was asked to represent Baby Routh in Dallas, where he was the chef. When he moved to Atlanta in the early ’90s to take over the kitchen at Nava, he began representing the Falcons.

“Each chef prepares 1,000 to 1,500 small portions for fans to sample,” says Rathbun. “It’s a great strolling party with drinks, entertainment by nationally recognized musicians, a silent auction and a chance to meet former NFL stars who sign autographs at each table.” More than 3,000 fans are expected to attend.

The celebrated chefs who participated in last year’s Taste of the NFL pose for a group pic. The 2019 event comes to Atlanta Feb. 2 on the eve of the Super Bowl.

For chefs like Rathbun, it’s a labor of love. Prep begins the night before, and most of the food is finished on-site using steamers, ovens and fryers. Students in culinary schools who are eager to learn from noted chefs around the country donate their time, along with employees at participating restaurants.

DiFillippo calls Taste of the NFL one of his favorite happenings. “It has everything that makes an event great while raising millions to feed the hungry,” he says. It also gives him an opportunity to work with Rathbun, a longtime friend who has collaborated with him on numerous endeavors that raise money for food banks.

This year, DiFillippo is again preparing gnocchi bowls, the number-one best-selling pasta dish at Davio’s. “One year we prepared 4,000, all cooked to order,” he says. “We always begin serving when the doors open and don’t look up until the food runs out and the doors close.”

For more information on Taste of the NFL, visit tasteofthenfl.com. Fans who are unable to attend the event can donate to the Kick Hunger Challenge that benefits the Atlanta Community Food Bank via acfb.org/events/kick-hunger-challenge.