St. Louis Effort for AIDS (EFA) marks its 25th year participating in Dining Out for Life (DOFL) on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 with over 100 area restaurants taking part this year.

DOFL is an international event that has raised over $4 million locally over the past 24 years to provide vital services to people living with HIV/AIDS. In 2017, the St. Louis community raised over $153,000 to help EFA provide education on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and comprehensive support services for those affected by the disease.

#Boom recently caught up with veteran celebrity spokesperson Ted Allen to talk DOFL, EFA, HIV/AIDS in the age of Trump, "Queer Eye", "Chopped" and more.

You've been a spokesperson for Dining Out for Life for a number of years now. Tell us how you got started in that role and what keeps bringing you back?

Well Dining Out for Life approached me about 10 years ago, I think this may be my 11th year, and it was just so easy to say yes. It's a total triple win. It's a win for the war on HIV/AIDS, it's a win for customers to pig out for a good reason, and it's a win for the chefs because they get exposed, hopefully, to some new diners who haven't tried their restaurants yet. I don't know about you but I like to try new places and eat new things and St. Louis has been killing it for this cause for a long time. This is your 25th year.

Yes, it's our largest fundraiser each year. Do you have a favorite Dining Out for Life memory that you could share?

Well I was pretty excited about the first time I got to meet Pam Grier, I'll tell you that! She's fabulous! What people may not know about her is that she raises horses and has a PhD. She has done very well for herself and is a very effective spokesperson. I'm sure you know that the demographics of HIV/AIDS have changed over the years and women of color are getting infected more than we want to see. So to have diverse voices advocating for this event is super important. Actually, it's been myself, Daisy Martinez, Mondo Guerra and Pam for as long as I can remember, and that's a pretty diverse group of people.

Yes, absolutely. That fits nicely into my next question because as you know HIV/AIDS as an issue has sort of fallen by the wayside since the cocktail, and now PrEP, but at the same time local ASO's are struggling for money, especially under this current administration. What do you think can be done to bring the community back to its roots where we raise money and rally around these issues?

I would like to think that awareness of the importance and the still devastating illnesses that result from HIV have not completely faded in the gay community. But naturally when the scientific community comes up with treatments that are very effective people worry less. Being able to worry a little less about sex is a nice thing, but the fact is, yea there's a cocktail, yea there's PrEP; that doesn't mean that HIV is not still a serious disease and one to be carefully avoided.

The other thing is it's a natural consequence as we are decades away from the original plague and kids today didn't see it and don't remember. They have no way of knowing the pain that so many thousands of people went through and lost their lives through no fault of their own. If we're going to assign blame you could assign blame to a press that wasn't comfortable talking about gay issues; you could lay blame at the feet of politicians, I'm thinking of one in particular. But the fact is HIV/AIDS is still an important problem, it's still a very important public health problem and there are a lot of very dedicated people who are spending their whole careers fighting this thing. I just think it's encoded on my generation to try to stoke that fire and remind the next generation that this is something you need to have in your head, you need to be aware of, and you can set the terms if you are at risk of this disease or not.

What are your plans for Dining Out for Life this year?

Well this is a really big year for Dining Out for Life and steadfast cities like St. Louis, now in its 25th year with this fundraiser, which raises historically something on the order of $4 million in a single day across the country. Now we add to the list of cities the biggest and most important, arguably, culinary destination in the United States which would be New York. New York has not been on the list historically and I'm not exactly sure of the reasons and I don't even think they matter anymore because New York is on the list and we have, obviously, an incredibly vibrant and diverse culinary scene here and a lot of economic might in this city. As a lot of the country is struggling New York is very fortunate to have strong leadership and a big tax base and just doing things - there's a lot happening here. For New York to contribute to this effort is very exciting so that's a big deal. I haven't chosen my restaurant yet, I may go to more than one but I have to look at the list. It's still a few weeks away but I'm really looking forward to it. It's an excuse to go out to eat, get dessert, order an extra bottle of wine and you know you're doing it for a good cause.

What I always say about Dining Out for Life is listen, the real credit for the victories we have achieved against HIV are, of course, the activists and the health care professionals who devote their every waking hour to this fight but not everyone can do that. Maybe you're a parent, you're a school teacher, you're a plumber, you're a cop; you're busy and you've got other roles to play in this world. But this is something anyone can do. We all have to eat. As long as you're somebody who's fortunate enough to have the means to go to restaurants - you're gonna eat anyway so why not eat at a restaurant that's supporting this important cause.

Absolutley. Most of us got to know you through "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" so I have to ask what are your thoughts on the new "Queer Eye" reboot?

I think it's great. You may or may not know but the food and wine guy in the new version of "Queer Eye" is my former assistant, Antoni Porowski.

Yea, that was my next question, I'd read there was a connection there. So is there any chance that the original 'fab five' will make an appearance on the new show?

Ehhhh... you never know. I mean I work for a competing network so my loyalties lie in a different place but that doesn't mean I'm not supportive of my boy. I feel like a proud papa. I gave him the introduction and he took it from there and he went up against hundreds of other people and nailed it. I think if you watch it it'll be readily apparent why. He's doing a great job. So I'm really happy about it, and frankly, I think it's a tribute to the strength of the original show that someone wants to do it again. It is, by the way, number one on its network.

Yea, I binge watched the whole thing and I really got a kick out of taking "Queer Eye" out of the big city bubble and focusing on more rural folks encountering the "Queer Eye" brand.

I couldn't agree more, and you know the people who did the casting are the same people who cast us, the original creators of the show. It's always been very important to them that the chemistry of the five are essential, that the knowledge base of the five is essential. I've met - I know Antoni really well - I've met Tan France, he and Antoni came over and had a drink in my back yard. He's a really decent guy; super smart, really witty, very funny. What I've seen so far is a great deal of warmth among this cast, and you know, as everyone has said about these episodes, they're all tear jerkers which is something. It just feels good to feel good. It feels good to feel good while you're watching TV and "Queer Eye" is giving us that and they're exploring the contours of the relationships between straights and gays and you know, our fight isn't over man, and I know you know that. While we do have marriage equality we still need The Trevor Project, we still need the Point Foundation. We're not done by any stretch and I think you alluded to that with what passes for the current presidential administration. Yea - we're not done.

You've also enjoyed great success on "Chopped". What's the secret to that magic?

It's gotta great host! I don't know but I thank my lucky stars every day for Linda Lea who is show's creator who invited me to try out for hosting it and it seems to have worked. I think "Chopped" succeeds for several reasons. One is that it's very straight forward. Two is that I think we can all relate to the idea of having to cook with whatever is on hand. Three - the chefs are control freaks, and I mean that in the best possible way. They are accustomed to spending weeks developing dishes using ingredients they love and banging them out under intense pressure. They're adrenaline junkies and you need to have a lot of energy to do that kind of work; it's a very, very hard career.

When you come on "Chopped" you put yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position. Suddenly you don't get to choose the ingredients and in fact they might be awful and often are. The goal is to make a harmonious dish from four things that just don't want to be together at all in a 30 minute time period. It's unbelievably hard so it's dramatic to watch that unfold. Another thing is our panel of judges are terrific; they're all deeply experienced, super passionate chefs with probably an average of 15 restaurants apiece among them.

I say this all the time when we're shooting, as I remarked to our floor producer Vivan Sorenson, one of our senior producers: it's so remarkable to me the extent that we all really, really care about fairness and care that the right person wins. It has nothing to do with personality; we're human and if someone's obnoxious we're gonna like them less but if they cook the best food they're gonna win and it's always been that way. It's also remarkable to me the extent to which we all passionately care about how this is done and we're good at it. We've been doing it a long time and we're as excited about this competition as we were on day one. And you can see it in the eyes of - particularly someone like Marcus Samuelsson - who practically leaps out of his chair every day that he comes and judges with us. It's a real privilege to work with these people.

Great! Thanks so much for your time. Are there any final thoughts on Dining Out for Life you'd like to leave us with?

I would just allude to what you said about the fact that a lot of local non-profits are going to get slammed by this so-called tax cut bill which is now disincentivizing people from giving to charity among many other terrible things. I think that if you are lucky enough to have disposable income you might consider this event as a way for you to make a meaningful contribution while just doing something that you would ordinarily do. And let's not forget that an important point about Dining Out for Life is that all of the money that is raised in your town stays in your town and goes to your local HIV/AIDS service organizations. So you're helping yourself, you're helping your neighbor, and it's laughingly easy. So why not? Why not join the cause, man? Help out!

Photography: Peter Ross & Dave Jackson



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