For over 25 years, Billy Harris, a culinary MC and fundraising whiz, has paired food with philanthropy, passionately advocating for organizations such as No Kid Hungry, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and Autism Speaks, just to name a few. But one of his most successful exercises in giving back—through which he has raised over $12 million—is a national dining series that he hosts to showcase some of the country’s top restaurants. This year, OpenTable is joining forces with Harris for four feasts across Los Angeles, reviving a program that was first poised for 2020.
Harris began his emceeing career by working the mic at live events for Food Network personalities such as Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay, circa 1994. “The rise of the celebrity chef really cross-pollinated with fundraising,” he says. “You can have a great meal with amazing wine and cocktails and also help as many people as you can. Raising tens of millions of dollars for so many organizations isn’t just good for the corporate culture, it’s the right thing to do.”
His upcoming dining series will kick off with a Baja California-centric lunch at Osteria Mozza, the award-winning Italian stalwart, on August 21. The restaurant’s acclaimed chef and co-owner, Nancy Silverton, will be joined by culinary talent from the northwestern Mexican state—Alfredo Villanueva of Villa Torél, David Castro Hussong and Maribel Aldaco of Fauna, and Sheyla Alvarado of Lunario Restaurante—and serve a $250 multi-course meal. The menu, which will feature everything from pickled mussels with chicatana salsa macha to wood-oven roasted lamb with figs and balsamic sauce, aims to highlight produce and seafood from the Valle de Guadalupe, a lush and scenic region that’s considered Mexico’s Napa Valley equivalent.
Proceeds from the lunch’s live auction will benefit Corazon de Vida, a California-based organization that funds orphanages to uplift abandoned children in Baja, Mexico. “It’s [set in] a rural part of Mexico, and these are children with no homes,” Harris says, recalling an eye-opening trip to one of the orphanages. “Every dollar counts.”
The series’s second meal, slated for October 26, will be a dinner at Yangban Society, a Jewish-Korean restaurant and marketplace hybrid in downtown Los Angeles. “[We’ll start with] Nancy Silverton, the O.G., the most accomplished female chef in the U.S.,” says Paul Vitagliano, the dinner series’s producer, who promised to share details about the two additional meals over the next few months. “Then we’ll go downtown, and after that, we’ll go in a completely different direction. Through this series, the concept is to show the full tapestry of Los Angeles.”