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Nourished in Utah, One World Everybody Eats movement earns top culinary honor for founder

First Published      Last Updated May 02 2017 11:01 pm

Born in SLC » Original eatery didn’t survive, but the idea of letting customers pay as much as they want wins following across the nation.

Chicago • Denise Cerreta calls it her "Field of Dreams" moment, when she closed her established acupuncture clinic in downtown Salt Lake City in 2003 to open the One World Everybody Eats Cafe — a restaurant with no set prices.

Similar to the reaction Kevin Costner's character inspired in the 1989 movie with his if-you-build-it-they-will-come vision, "People were really concerned that I had lost it," Cerreta acknowledges. Who lets customers pick their portion size and pay what they can? How could she possibly make a profit?

Cerreta, though, wasn't interested in dollars. She wanted to make a difference.

That small seed planted in Salt Lake City 14 years ago has taken root and blossomed into a network of 65 "pay what you can" cafes in communities across the country, with dozens more in development. Combined, the restaurants serve more than 1.3 million meals a year.

While each cafe operates slightly differently to meet the needs of its local community, in every one there are customers who can pay full price — or more — which covers the cost of food for those less fortunate.

And while the original closed years ago, the lessons learned in Salt Lake City help Cerreta guide the growth of the new crop of cafes, along with a board of directors, through the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats foundation.

For her years of work fighting hunger, Cerreta received the James Beard Foundation's 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award Monday. The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world, with the Humanitarian of the Year honor recognizing an individual or organization working to improve the lives of others.

"Food has the power to nurture, strengthen and heal, and Denise has harnessed that power like a superhero," said celebrity chef Art Smith, who presented the award to Cerreta before a crowd of more than 3,000 of the nation's top chefs and restaurant owners gathered at Chicago's historic Lyric Opera House.

After the ceremony, Smith, who won the humanitarian award in 2007 and was the chef to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and television personality Oprah Winfrey, again praised Cerreta, saying she, like most in the food world, "wishes everyone had wholesome delicious food in reach of them."

Not in the plan • Opening an unorthodox cafe wasn't what Cerreta planned when she moved to Utah in 1996 to start an acupuncture clinic. But over time, her interest in Chinese medicine waned and her vision for the altruistic cafe became more clear.

She closed her practice and opened the One World Everybody Eats Cafe at 41 S. 300 East. It was a for-profit business, with a nonprofit mission to feed those who were less fortunate.

Customers chose from offerings prepared fresh each day, usually soup, one or two salads, quiche, a main entree and a dessert. They also decided how much — or little — they wanted to eat, eliminating food waste. At the end of the line, patrons paid what they could.

People who had money usually paid more because they could and they liked the concept, Cerreta said. Those who were less financially stable paid less or could volunteer.

Cerreta's idea of a "hand up, not a handout" was featured in newspaper articles and television reports and the cafe quickly gained national attention.

Salt Lake City diners were avid supporters. Besides frequenting the restaurant, they volunteered their time and donated money, equipment, furniture, even a car to the cause.

Cerreta's early customers helped name the restaurant, calling it One World after the green and blue Earth banner that hung above the front porch.

The irony is that the cafe that got the One World movement started ultimately failed.

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2017 James Beard restaurant and chef award winners

Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia took home the outstanding chef award Monday night at the James Beard Awards, and Chicago’s Rick Bayless’ high-end Mexican eatery Topolobampo won the outstanding restaurant honor. Another Philadelphia foodie — Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurants — won the outstanding restaurateur award at a ceremony many consider the Oscars of the culinary world.

Here’s the full list of winners:

National restaurant and chef awards

Best New Restaurant » Le Coucou in New York

Outstanding Baker » Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst in Washington

Outstanding Bar Program » Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans

Outstanding Chef » Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia

Outstanding Pastry Chef » Ghaya Oliveira of Daniel in New York

Outstanding Restaurant » Topolobampo in Chicago

Outstanding Restaurateur » Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurants in Philadelphia

Outstanding Service » Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

Outstanding Wine Program » Canlis in Seattle

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional » Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del.

Rising Star Chef of the Year » Zachary Engel of Shaya in New Orleans

Restaurant design awards

75 Seats and Under » Firm: AvroKO; Designers: Kristina O’Neal, William Harris, Adam Farmerie and Greg Bradshaw; Project: SingleThread, Healdsburg, California

76 Seats and Over » Design Firm: Meyer Davis; Designers: Will Meyer, Gray Davis and Katie McPherson; Project: St. Cecilia, Atlanta

Design Icon » Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant; New York

Regional chef awards

Best Chef: Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio) » Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde in Chicago

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia) » Greg Vernick of Vernick Food and Drink in Philadelphia

Best Chef: Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin) » Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis

Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs) » Marco Canora of Hearth

Best Chef: Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York state, Rhode Island, Vermont) » Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine

Best Chef: Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming) » Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton and Greg Denton of Ox in Portland, Ore.

Best Chef: South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico) » Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint in New Orleans

Best Chef: Southeast (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia) » Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta

Best Chef: Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah) » Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s in Houston

Best Chef: West (California, Hawaii, Nevada) » Corey Lee of Benu in San Francisco

America’s Classics

Bertha’s Kitchen, Charleston, S.C. » Owners: Julia Grant, Linda Pinckney and Sharon Coakley

Gioia’s Deli, St. Louis » Owner: Alex Donley

La Taqueria, San Francisco » Owner: Miguel Jara

Sahadi’s, Brooklyn, N.Y. » Owners: Christine Sahadi Whelan and Ron Sahadi

Schultz’s Crab House, Essex, Md. » Owners: Chrissy Burkman, Stephanie Kell, Jason McKinney, Michelle McKinney, Robert A. McKinney Jr. and Stephan McKinney

Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America

Roger Berkowitz » President and CEO, Legal Sea Foods, Boston

Suzanne Goin » Multiple James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur, Los Angeles

Evan Kleiman » Culinarian; host of KCRW’s “Good Food,” Los Angeles

Michel Nischan » Multiple James Beard Award-winning chef; founder, president and CEO of Wholesome Wave, Bridgeport, Conn.

Rajat Parr » Domaine de la Côte, Lompoc, Calif.

Humanitarian of the Year » Denise Cerreta of One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City

Lifetime Achievement Award » Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora in Washington

— The Associated Press