If you go

What: Chefs Cycle dinner fundraiser

Where: 900 Wall

When: April 4 at 6 p.m.

Cost: $75; RSVP by calling 900 Wall at 541-323-6295 to make reservations. Specify that the reservation is for the fundraiser.

Thom Pastor knows firsthand how a fundraising event can make a difference, even if its crux seems to be about having fun on bicycles.

When Pastor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, he felt helpless until he became involved with — and benefited from — Tour des Chutes, a Central Oregon cycling event that raises money for cancer patients and their families. Now that his wife has been cancer-free for six years, Pastor feels compelled to pay it forward by also taking part in Chefs Cycle, a 300-mile bicycle ride that fights child hunger.

“It’s good to give back,” Pastor said. “I think something chefs don’t worry enough about is people who can’t afford food.”

Pastor, 37, is one of four Bend culinary professionals — and avid cyclists — who are working together to drum up $30,000 through Chefs Cycle, a fundraiser that fuels No Kid Hungry, an initiative started by nonprofit Share Our Strength that feeds hungry children across the country. The team’s hard work will earn them the grueling prize of cycling 300 miles over three days in May through California with other philanthropic chefs and members of the culinary community.

No Kid Hungry subsidizes free breakfast and lunch programs in public schools. About 12 percent of U.S. households struggle to put food on the table, according to a 2016 report by the United States Department of Agriculture. That means about 1 in 6 children go hungry at some point each year, according to No Kid Hungry.

“I didn’t grow up in a house that had a lot of money, but I never went hungry. I don’t remember a single time being worried about where my next meal was coming from,” Pastor said. “But I now have an 11-year-old daughter. … I see other kids that she is around at school, and I have been surprised by how common this problem is. So it feels good to give back.”

Chefs Cycle has raised $143,760 toward the $2.4 million goal for its Santa Rosa tour; Team Central Oregon, captained by Laura Hagen, 49, has raised the second-highest amount among 32 participating teams, according to the organization. Team Central Oregon can accept donations via their Chefs Cycle webpage.

Pastor’s teammates, who are culinary professionals and competitive cyclists, have already raised more than $12,000. To pool the money, competitive cyclist and 900 Wall chef Cliff Eslinger developed a five-course meal — which also featured wine — last November for 50 people. The free-range, antibiotic-free chicken entrees were accompanied by a risotto infused with Oregon mushrooms. Vendors donate much of the food. Teammate Hagen, an instructor at the Central Oregon Culinary Institute, handled pastry detail. Julian Darwin, founder of the Cascades Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College, fulfills a number of roles. Pastor managed the silent auction, which at the April 4 dinner will feature a high-end bicycle, a complimentary sourdough baking class at CCI (courtesy of Hagen and Darwin) and a four-day, three-night sailing trip among the San Juan Islands. They’re hoping to raise an additional $10,000 to $12,000 at the next dinner. Admission is $75 per person.

The food and the philanthropy has left an impression on previous guests.

“At our last meal, there was a man who was very moved; he wanted to make sure we knew that when he was a child he was hungry — a lot,” Pastor said. “He didn’t want this to happen to other kids, and he gave us some sizable donations above and beyond what we expected.”

Meals are determined not by different cycling themes but by what ingredients Eslinger can get at-cost or donated from local vendors. Eslinger’s long-term relationships with vendors date to 2001 when he moved to Bend from Saratoga, New York, to cook professionally. He balances preparing the best meals possible with stretching their grocery budget for the sake of ensuring as much of the diners’ cash goes toward No Kid Hungry as possible. The next meal Eslinger and his teammates will present at 900 Wall will feature Oregon Coast oysters. Additional menu details will be available closer to the event, which is scheduled for April 4.

Fuel the furnace

About 10 years ago, Cliff Eslinger wasn’t the “healthiest person in the world.” He worked a lot, indulged too much and weighed 25 pounds more than he does today, he said. A noncommittal cyclist, Eslinger began riding more, which caused him to slide down “the rabbit hole” of amateur bicycle racing, when he met Hagen, who previously worked at 900 Wall as a pastry chef. Eslinger caught the racing bug when he cheered on Hagen at the Cyclocross National Championships, which came to Bend in 2010. Riding and racing year-round, Eslinger’s engine sometimes burns 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day.

“I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t love to eat,” Eslinger said. “My ongoing joke is that I could be 10 pounds lighter,” he said, emphasizing “could.” “So I use (cycling) as an excuse to still live like an animal, to a degree.”

An instructor at the Central Oregon Culinary Institute, Hagan has to taste a lot of students’ food, which surrounds her. Cycling is a good outlet for her to stay fit. Julian Darwin, 65 and also a CCI instructor, said he faces the same tantalizing challenges.

“When you have a classroom full of students making eggs Benedict, that means 18 eggs Benedict for breakfast,” Darwin said with a chuckle. “Exercise for chefs is (important). You’d think chefs would have the best diet, but we don’t always have the best diet due to our work environment.”

Darwin said his culinary expertise allows him fuel with homespun super foods, which he stuffs into his jersey pockets before rides.

“Usually, we take along a dozen croissants,” Darwin joked. “I think (the Chefs Cycle ride) brings chefs an opportunity to look at their diets prior to the ride and to fuel the best way possible with good, nutritious food.”

Sandwiches will fuel the Central Oregon team during the Chefs Cycle Santa Rosa ride, which will wind through sequoia forests and overlap with previous sections of the prestigious Tour of California race series, they said. Darwin intends to carry whole-wheat roast beef sandwiches featuring avocado, Swiss cheese, tomato and lettuce. Each evening, chefs take turns cooking for each other, said Hagen, who participated in Chefs Cycle in 2016. Darwin was so helpful with her fundraising that Hagen made it a point to form a future riding team with him. All four Bend cyclists have ridden plenty of centuries — cyclist parlance for 100-mile rides — yet said that three of them in a row is always challenging.

“When I first showed up, I thought this was going to be no problem, I’ll be able to keep up with these guys,” Hagen said of her 2016 Chefs Cycle ride. “But you can’t judge a book by its cover. It was pretty fast off the line on the first day. It’s not meant to be a race; it’s meant to be an event where we share a common goal. But with chefs, you have a lot of competitiveness.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com