You’re returning for your 6th year at OC Chef’s Table! Why do you keep coming back?
Chef Linda Johnsen: My restaurant is in Costa Mesa and we have homeless people all around. Years ago, I made a commitment that if they came up to my door, I would feed them. It doesn’t matter how well the restaurant is or isn’t doing – I won’t turn anyone away.
So, several years ago I met Paul Leon, the co-founder of Illumination Foundation and, when I saw what his organization was doing for the homeless, I jumped at the opportunity to do more.
When did you first decide you wanted to cook?
When I was 8 years old, I was already experimenting in the kitchen (and I use that term loosely). My grandmother taught me to make pasta with my own hands, and I had an Easy-Bake Oven … clearly, the sign of any serious cook. When I first got married, my grandmother would come to my house in South Jersey and show me how to make all the family recipes I had grown up with. At 22, I started my own catering company and I’ve never stopped cooking.
What led to opening Filomena’s?
The recession in 2009! I was selling real estate and that world tanked. I started looking for something to keep me busy and, lo and behold, I saw this restaurant up for sale. So, I opened at a really terrible time, but it seemed to resonate with people and food critics, and it keeps working. We added our Italian Market two years ago, and it’s catching on, too.
What do you find most memorable about the OC Chef’s Table event?
I love hearing the girls and women on stage talk about the new lives they have because of Illumination Foundation. It hits home with me.
When I started out on my own, I was about 17 years old and had to leave my job because I was being chased around a desk every day. I was on my own without a lot of resources available and it was a matter of time before I was pretty much homeless. I even tried to join the Navy, but that didn’t work, either!
I needed help. Women are out there right now with similar stories, and many of them have children to care for. When you’re down and out, you just need to feel that tug of knowing that someone cares and has resources to help get you on your feet again. That’s what Illumination Foundation is doing for so many families right now. They’re getting these women and children off the streets and helping them rebuild their lives.
The top chefs in Orange County (along with a few surprise visiting chefs) are getting together again for the renowned OC Chef’s Table at Disneyland® Resort on March 1, 2020.
OC Chef’s Table continues to help Illumination Foundation raise funds to provide permanent housing and services for homeless adults and children. With OC’s most imaginative chefs creating one-of-a-kind magical menus, it’s no wonder OC Chef’s Table is one of the most coveted gala tickets of the year.
See all 40+ chefs participating and secure your ticket at OCChefsTable.com. And, get to know this year’s phenomenal chefs as Diane Armitage sits down with each, asking 5 questions in just 5 minutes …