New Jersey often gets overshadowed by its close proximity to New York City. The Big Apple is where many entrepreneurs and celebrities go to open up their businesses and hang their awards. But as you may or may not already know, the Garden State is proudly home to a number of wonderful – and award-winning – men and women. One such person is Chef Eric LeVine.

Chef Eric has been awarded numerous accolades; he is the 2011 Champion of Food Network’s CHOPPED competition, has been recognized by both USA Today and FoodArts Magazine as one of the Top 10 Chefs in America, and has earned multiple, international Chef of the Year awards. This year, he is serving as co-chair for the second annual Taste of Hope – New Jersey event that takes place on October 26 at the Cherry Valley Country Club to support the American Cancer Society of New Jersey.

During the event – which has a limited number of tickets still available – guests will be able to sample both gourmet cuisine from New Jersey’s top chefs and wine from Claremont Distillery. The night will be hosted by Cara Di Falco from Cara’s Cucina and welcome 15 of the state’s most celebrated chefs. It will also feature a silent auction, a wine pull and live entertainment. All proceeds from the event will go directly to the American Cancer Society of New Jersey.

Best of NJ had the opportunity to speak with Chef Eric LeVine for an Up Close interview to learn more about his career, as well as the upcoming event that is very dear to him.

Best of NJ: You are the chef/partner of Morris Tap & Grill and Paragon Tap & Table. Tell us a bit about your culinary experiences leading up to where you are in your career today.

Chef Eric LeVineChef Eric LeVine: I’ve been doing this for 36 years, and it’s taken me all over the world, and I’ve worked with some amazing chefs here in New York and Long Island and New Jersey. It has been an amazing career so far. I’ve been doing it my whole life, and I love it.

There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not one of those things where you just wake up and start; you build a career. There’s a lot of hours to put into it, a lot of sacrifices, where you have to be willing to put everything else aside and do what you do. You can be a 9-to-5’er, but your level of success won’t be there; it doesn’t just come because you show up, you have to actually earn it and work for it.

BONJ: You are also Taste of Hope – New Jersey’s culinary co-chair. How did you get involved with the event? And where did the idea to do this fundraiser come from?

EL: I’ve been part of the Taste of Hope – New York for the last seven or eight years. I’m a five-time survivor of cancer, so for me it’s all about paying it forward. And I got involved because—as a chef, you have a platform where you can share food, share ideas, make your community better and work on helping others. That’s just what we do. So for me it was a no-brainer, having cancer five times and surviving. It’s just about paying it forward and helping others.

BONJ: What can attendees expect on October 26?

EL: Chefs are coming from all over New Jersey, and I think [the event’s attendees] will get to experience different tastes and a little bit of everything. It’ll be a great night. We’ll have music, different wines and spirits. And it’ll be a great atmosphere at Cherry Valley Country Club. So there’s a lot of fun stuff.

And chefs in general are some of the most giving—that’s what we do. We give ourselves to our customers, to our staff. So this event is another way for us to pay it forward, and to give and to raise money for a worthy cause.

Chef Eric LeVineBONJ: Do you guys have any exclusive or special dishes being served at the event?

EL: All the dishes are going to be special, and I think every chef is going to come with their feathers in their caps to show what they do at their own places. I’m representing both of my restaurants, so I’ll have some fun things planned. I don’t want to give it away, but I’m excited about it.

Each chef is bringing some fun tastes and bites. And there is also the VIP space where four of us (chefs) are going to be doing an additional taste that’s private and just for about 40 people. So we’re offering that as well.

BONJ: The event will feature a silent auction, live music – like you said – and a wine pull. What exactly is a wine pull?

EL: Everyone brings wine, and they pay $20 for the pull. And some of the wines will be a minimum value of $20, but it could be upwards of $200.

BONJ: Last year, the event helped raise $25,000 for the American Cancer Society. How do you expect to do this year?

EL: The goal is to double it. So we need everyone’s support. We need everyone to come out and be a part of this great event and drive on down to Cherry Valley Country Club and really pay it forward. It’s for a great cause. Cancer affects everybody in one way or another; we’re all touched by it, and the more we can do things like this and bring awareness and raise money, the more we can truly help the community.

BONJ: Tell us about your partnership with the American Cancer Society of New Jersey. I know you said you’re a five-time cancer survivor.

EL: I think the best way to help others is by fundraising and raising awareness and by bringing hope. Money has to be raised for this (cause), and it basically (all) comes from fundraising.

BONJ: It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing event!

EL: Yes, definitely. Some of the best chefs in New Jersey will be there representing some of the best restaurants. So it’s going to be a great night and a lot of fun—and a lot of fundraising.

Chef Eric LeVine Hero

To learn more about Chef Eric LeVine, visit http://chefericlevine.com/. You can keep up with him on social media by following him on Twitter, giving his Facebook page a “Like” or looking out for his latest delicious food pics on Instagram. Those interested in supporting the second annual Taste of Hope – New Jersey can either purchase tickets or donate directly by visiting the event’s website.

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