It was on the hibachi grill earlier this week that I learned how it felt to run a re-start in the Indianapolis 500.
There I was, focused on the task of the spatula in my hand when I saw the shrimp in my peripheral vision. There, on my outside, in a sliver of space barely fit for a chopstick, appeared Alexander Rossi, turning my grill’s vegetarian delicacy into a crustacean cuisine.
He was assigned to the grill a row of food behind me, but somehow the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner found a wedge to my outside.
Rossi’s interruption was enthusiastically welcomed by the table of patrons, men and women who had come to an Indianapolis Japanese Steakhouse for the annual “Celebrity Cook-Off” benefitting the Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis. I, too, was happy with the cameo, as it offered a sense of relief, that, yes, in fact, my table finally had a cook with celebrity status.
Rossi, who took Indy’s prize as a rookie, was making his maiden appearance at the annual event that has become a favorite for local dignitaries, athletes and media members.
The event is a lighthearted affair in spirit, a full-hearted event in purpose. The mission of the Children’s Bureau is to “preserve families and protect the future of Indiana’s children.” The mission of the celebrities attending: Help raise money for the children of Indianapolis.
“I had so much fun attending”, the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series runner-up said afterward. “It always amazes me to see how strong the Indianapolis community is and how passionate its people are about raising money for a good cause.”
Rossi was not the only member of the INDYCAR paddock to trade his firesuit for an apron. Charlie Kimball, whose wife Kathleen is expecting to deliver their first child by the end of the month, also was in attendance. The Californian is a self-proclaimed “foodie” but it was goodwill that was on his palate this night. For Kimball, the effort felt personal.
“Having spoken to children at the children bureau, I’ve seen first hand how the children’s bureau helps these kids”, said Kimball, who just completed his eighth Verizon IndyCar Series season and first with Carlin Racing. “Being able to donate some time and questionable culinary skills to ensure they continue to have the tools and ability to provide their services to everyone that can use them makes it my pleasure to join the effort!”
Sebastian Saavedra didn’t run an INDYCAR race in 2018, but he hopes to jump back into the series next season. The Colombian who married an Indianapolis native and now calls this city home was making his second appearance in the fundraiser.
“It’s cool to see celebrities taking their time to play with the teppanyaki and raising some funds for the right reasons,” quipped the 2009 Indy Lights Rookie of the Year. “Plus, the racing family was well represented in number and quality!”
Not unlike one of the realities of racing, each celebrity was asked to raise their own funding for the organization. While the INDYCAR representation brought in nearly $6,800 of the celebrity’s $14,000 contribution, none raised more than Andretti Autosport Indy Lights driver Dalton Kellett, whose $3,158 was the highest among the 57 celebrity invitees.
“I love to cook but this was my first time behind a hibachi grill,” explained the Canadian. “The proceeds are going to a cause that will help Hoosier children and that’s something we can all make an excuse to over-eat for!”
Kellett is correct. This is a great event for a great cause, but it also serves as an opportunity to showcase the philanthropic nature of the most versatile racing series in the world. Think about it. Fifty-seven total celebrity participants and nearly half of the celebrity fundraising came from those in the INDYCAR paddock.
All told, the event raised over $150,000 for the bureau. It was a tremendous evening and one that won’t be a “one-off” for Rossi.
“I look forward to going back next year, and until then, I will be supporting,” he said. “And, practicing my shrimp flip.”
Don’t tell him, but the flip wasn’t so bad. It was perfectly fitting that it came from nowhere on the outside, just like in racing.