‘Food hugs’ earn Michigan chef international recognition

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Jenna Arcidiacono recently added an expansive gas stove to the kitchen at her restaurant Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park, Michigan. She also converted one of the old fryers into a water system, which she uses to boil her famous gnocchi and pasta.

Her resourcefulness has helped her do countless good deeds in West Michigan. In addition to her famous arancini, Arcidiacono also makes “food hugs,” meals she crowdfunds to give to people dealing with a difficult situation. It started during the pandemic.

“I was seeing a lot of hurt, a lot of sadness. Everyone couldn’t connect anymore because they were homebound. Humans aren’t meant to stay home that long. I was like, I got to do something kind. I started delivering food to the frontline workers, which was any anyone and everyone: nurses, doctors, firemen, police officers,” said Arcidiacono, who often goes by Chef Jenna.

Those food hugs have earned her international recognition. She is a finalist for the Häagen-Dazs Rose Project award. Out of more than 2,500 submissions, Arcidiacono is in the top 50. She will find out Wednesday if she’ll win one of the five grants worth $20,000.

The woman who nominated Arcidiacono for the award knows firsthand what kind of impact she has had. She was a recipient of a food hug.

“(Her husband) went through a major transplant. We wanted to just celebrate that he made it through, so I bought them dinner and stuff like that,” Arcidiacono said.

Arcidiacono said she was honored to be nominated.  

“I have been reading like every day they post another female because I love getting inspired by others and their stories are good. It’s so awesome to see what women are doing all over the world and trying to make a difference,” said Arcidiacono.

A FOUNDATION FOR GOOD

Arcidiacono said she would put the grant toward her nonprofit to keep doing good around West Michigan.

In addition to her food hugs, she also started an initiative called Tipback Thursdays, where she crowdfunds $1,000 to give to a local restaurant server. They have donated $65,000 in $1,000 tips to local servers so far.

“It’s hyperlocal and very community based. The community sees the need and they’ve seen what happens when we give these away and how happy people are,” she said.

Arcidiacono won’t longer have to crowdfund for every food hug or Tipback Thursday after her birthday party in January.

She held a “Pink Party” fundraiser with a goal of raising $50,000 for her 50th birthday. She raised more than $100,000 for her nonprofit, more than double her original goal.

“We’ll just continually do a birthday fundraiser because I love my birthday, and I love partying, so that’ll be our annual party,” she said.

ITALIAN INFLUENCE

Arcidiacono is a West Michigan native fluent in Italian and an expert in Italian cuisine, thanks to her husband, Maurizio. He was visiting the U.S. when they fell in love. They now have two daughters together. It was her mother-in-law, Vittoria, who spent hours upon hours in the kitchen teaching her the art of Italian cooking.

She started the Nona Vittoria scholarship this year for girls to continue their education. She has already awarded two students $1,000 each.

Arcidiacono also recently started doing “grief groceries” for people who have lost loved ones. She sends them an order of basic needs.

“It’s stuff that’s the easiest thing to put together, like peanut butter and jelly, mac ‘n cheese, tomato soup, grilled cheese. All the things that you want when you need comfort food,” said Arcidiacono.

If she wins the award, Arcidiacono said she plans to continue doing good things for good people.

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