An annual fundraiser is returning for its ninth year with the hopes of raising awareness through good food, a great sense of community and a little comic relief.

Second Harvest Heartland’s “Dish: Cuisine for Change” is back with even more restaurants and top-notch chefs, plus the hopes for one of the best turnouts yet.

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Lindsi Gish, Second Harvest Heartland marketing director, gave us a sneak preview of what we can expect — and emphasized just how important this kind of fundraiser is for those who are going hungry.

Q: Tell us about Dish: Cuisine for Change and how it came about.

A: This is the ninth annual Dish event. Before Dish was created, there was a local event called “Chef’s Reveal,” in which chefs “revealed” the recipe of the dish they were serving. Shortly after the Minneapolis and St. Paul food banks merged to form Second Harvest Heartland, Dish was created/reborn to be a more upscale fundraising gala.

Q: What makes this event unique?

A: Dish is unique because it is the only fundraiser in the Twin Cities that combines an extraordinary culinary experience with comedy to raise funds to feed the one in 10 Minnesotans at risk of hunger. We bring in about 20 of the Twin Cities most well-known dining destinations and their chefs to prepare small plates for attendees to sample while they enjoy the silent auction. Then, we bring in some comedic relief. This year, “Tonight Show with Jay Leno”-regular Sebastian Maniscalco will perform to help keep the mood light. The result is an elegant evening that satisfies the palate and the funny bone while raising much needed funds for our hungry neighbors.

(credit: Second Harvest Heartland)

Q: Why is an event like this so important?

A: Hunger is on the rise in Minnesota. Today, one in 10 Minnesotans — men, women, children, seniors — is at risk of missing a meal. In fact, hungry Minnesotans are missing more than 100 million meals every single year. We need to raise awareness of the issue of hunger in our communities and of the transformative hunger relief work of Second Harvest Heartland and we need to raise money to sustainably feed our hungry neighbors.

Q: Tell us a little more about Second Harvest Heartland.

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A: Second Harvest Heartland is the largest hunger relief organization in the upper Midwest. We work to reinvent hunger relief through leadership and innovation so that we can help those who are hungry today as well as provide the means for those who are hungry to be fed tomorrow. Through pioneering partnerships and programs, Second Harvest Heartland, together with 1,000 nonprofit member agencies, was able to distribute a record 70 million pounds of food last year to hungry seniors, families and children in 59 counties in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. That’s the equivalent of more than 54 million meals.

Q: Who are a few of the restaurants that are participating?

A: We are fortunate enough to have some wonderful local restaurants participating — several of which are long-time supporters of Second Harvest Heartland, including Kincaid’s American Dining Classic, McCoy’s Public House, Red Stag Supperclub, The Melting Pot, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Solera and Zelo, among many others. In addition, new to this year’s event are Hell’s Kitchen, Porter & Frye, Scusi, Sea Change, W.A. Frost & Company, and many others.

Q: When you approached these local restaurants and chefs about the event, what was their response?

A: Both long-time participants in Dish, as well as new partners, were quite receptive to participating in the event. Most of the chefs we spoke to for the first time were already familiar with Second Harvest Heartland’s work in the community and were excited to have the chance to support us with their culinary talents.

(credit: Second Harvest Heartland)

Q: What can attendees expect from the evening’s festivities?

A: Upon arrival, guests will enjoy meandering through the RiverCentre to browse an extensive selection of silent auction items and to enjoy fine wines and sumptuous samples from the participating restaurants. Once in the ballroom, guests will hear a short presentation from Rob Zeaske, chief executive officer of Second Harvest Heartland, and will then have an opportunity to participate in the live auction. Then, guests will be treated to an uproarious performance by nationally acclaimed comedian Sebastian Maniscalco.

Q: What are your hopes for the event?

A: Our hope is to raise awareness of the great need for hunger relief in our community, to raise awareness of the transformative work of Second Harvest Heartland in helping to provide that hunger relief, and to raise funds to sustainably feed our hungry neighbors. Last year’s event raised $500,000, and we hope to raise at least that much again this year.

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Dish: Cuisine for Change takes place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, April 19 at the St. Paul RiverCentre, 175 West Kellogg Blvd. Those interested in attending Dish can visit or call 651.209.7994. Individual tickets are $150; a table for 10 is $1,750.