Eat to the Beat raises millions for breast cancer support

In 2012 an estimated 22,900 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada alone. The annual Eat to the Beat event takes place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and aims to help those faced with this diagnosis by providing support for Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada.

Willow is a non-profit breast cancer organization that provides free support and information for those who cannot wait for tomorrow’s cure.

The event began 17 years ago when Lisa and Abby Slater attended another Willow fundraiser and decided there and then to use their foodie and entrepreneurial skills to help Willow ensure no one faces breast cancer alone.

The signature event quickly gained the support of notable female chefs willing to donate their time and services, and grew to become one of the most important fundraising events – and one of the Top 15 Food, Wine and Hospitality events – in Toronto, according to BizBash Magazine.

It is the only event in Canada that features exclusively female chefs – 60 of them at that – creating the overarching feeling of women supporting women.

“Women use their kitchen as a place to prepare food but also as a setting to exchange ideas and provide support for one another,” said Virginia Yule, Eat to the Beat Chair. “Eat to the Beat is the penultimate kitchen experience. Born from the desire of sisters Abigail and Lisa Slater to draw attention to female chefs who are the unsung heroes of the Canadian culinary scene, coupled with their wish to raise funds to support women living with breast cancer, Eat to the Beat is a unique food experience that helps ensure that no one needs to face breast cancer alone.”

Guests pay $150 to attend the event at Roy Thompson Hall – over 80 per cent of proceeds go directly to Willow’s free programs and services – and gain access to an all-you-can-consume feast from some of the top chefs in the area.

Stations are set up all along the building featuring savoury and sweet dishes, wine, beer, martinis and more, and guests are given tickets to vote for their favourites.

The evening also includes live music (hence the name of the event), a silent auction, and a raffle draw for items such as kitchen appliances, a gold necklace and cookware.

The best part is the breast cancer survivors that walk around in conceptual, food related corsets they have created. It has become a beloved tradition of the event.

My favourite food of the night – the first one to receive my vote – came from Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. It was Curried Cauliflower with Quinoa & Wilted Spinach, Green Grapes & Tomato Relish, spoon sized samples set up for easy consumption.

“I have been participating in Eat to the Beat since its inception,” noted Donna Dooher, chef and owner of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. “When my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer she embarked on a journey of surgical procedures, chemotherapy and radiation but through the support of her family and community she was able to gain a foothold on a positive attitude which was paramount to her healing. 15 years along the road she and I still discuss how important organizations like Willow are to helping women who are winning the battle against cancer.” 

If I could offer any advice to those attending this event for the first time – pace yourself! Check out the entire room and find the items you definitely want to try first because you won’t be able to try them all. I started out by sampling everything I came across, and quickly became too full to try many items that looked incredible.

The night was a joyous celebration of hope, and it perfectly displayed how important a strong community is for people fighting this disease.

Photos ©Willow

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