Our Champions: 5 Questions with Chef Cesar Zapata

Chef Cesar Zapata is a No Kid Hungry champion living in Miami. Zapata came to know our work through South Florida's Taste of the Nation, a fundraising event he led as co-chair from 2017 to 2020. Zapata is a natural ally in the fight to end childhood hunger. As a kid, his family relied on SNAP and school meals to make ends meet.

“I was that kid that No Kid Hungry talks about,” he shared with us. “My parents had two jobs to make sure that we had food. We still struggled, waking up and not being able to have breakfast.”

In early 2020, Zapata joined our Leadership Council, a group of passionate corporate, philanthropic, media, culinary and policy leaders that provide strategic guidance on the No Kid Hungry campaign. We’re proud to feature him and share his story today. 

You’ve shared your experience facing food insecurity as a kid and seeing its effects on your wider community. How have those experiences shaped your career as a chef and an activist?

It has shaped me in always wanting to do more to help those in need, not only in Miami but also in the rest of the country. I see how blessed I am regardless of the challenges and circumstances I went through to achieve my goals, and now I want to be able to share my story with everyone to inspire others to be able to do the same. 

You’ve supported the No Kid Hungry campaign in so many ways -- through our events, advocacy and now through your role on the Leadership Council. Do you have a favorite story or experience working with us?

One of my most memorable moments has been Lobby Day. We met with staff members from Florida’s Representative Donna Shalala’s office. I was able to share my story as an immigrant kid coming to the United States and growing up in an underprivileged neighborhood. Some of the staff were in tears listening to my story.

In 2019, you joined a group of chefs on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to protect programs that feed kids in the summertime. What stuck with you from that experience?

Chef Zapata in Capitol Hill

Speaking on behalf of all kids and parents to urge lawmakers to protect and increase funding for summer programs, I learned that I have a voice to make a difference and have an impact on social issues that affect our kids' future.

The culinary industry is changing so rapidly. How do you see the role of chefs evolving in the coming years?

We are being seen more as people in our industry with power to make a difference and changes that affect not only our industry but also social issues that can affect everyone. Chefs are no longer just cooks, we are also advocates for the people.

Finally, you just opened Arepitas Bar, a nod to your heritage. How has this heritage influenced your food and your identity as a leader in the culinary industry?

Arepitas is a concept that I’ve been wanting to open for the past decade but because of financial constraints or not being able to find the right venue it has been postponed for a while. 

It makes me proud to bring something to our community that is true to my heritage and upbringing. I’m able to create and share some of the food and dishes that I grew up eating as a kid and that make me proud of being Colombian. It has given us the opportunity to educate the community and my staff on the importance of reconnecting with my roots. 

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, No Kid Hungry is hosting a fireside chat between Chefs Cesar Zapata and Paola Velez. On October 7, they’ll discuss their identities, the barriers they’ve faced and how they navigated the culinary world. RSVP here.

Today, 1 in 6 children in the US could be living with hunger. Chefs— like Zapata— continue to step up and find creative ways to ensure all kids have access to the meals they need to thrive. Stay tuned for more stories about champions supporting No Kid Hungry.