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Aussie CEO James Symond explains why he cooked dinner for homeless people

James Symond serves an elderly woman at the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff at Barangaroo. Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

Last night at Barangaroo in Sydney, Aussie CEO James Symond cooked a meal as part of OzHarvest’s annual CEO Cookoff. Symond also personally raised $110,000 of the $1.5 million target the food rescue charity set.

Today, he recounts experience exclusively for Business Insider and explains why it’s important not just to write cheques, but to also get engaged – and how he now plans to enlist the entire Aussie team in future philanthropy.

The OzHarvest CEO Cookoff really took me out of my comfort zone, but I loved every minute of it.

Probably, like many CEOs, throughout the years I’ve written many cheques and gone to countless events in support of various important charities, but I had never personally gone and got my hands dirty with the participants in such a way.

Last night, along with over a hundred other CEOs and 30 of the country’s top chefs, I put my apron on to cook for over 1,000 homeless or disadvantaged Aussies which was the real differentiator with being part of this event.

I also managed to raise $110,000 for OzHarvest thanks to the support of some great mates, Aussie brokers and team members who all got behind me to ensure my fundraising target was achieved. I know this money will help to feed 220,000 Aussies and keep the wheels turning on what is a really smart and sustainable organisation led by Ronni Kahn.

The Cutaway at Barangaroo was an amazing space for the event, and it was at capacity with all our guests sitting down together on long, decorated tables with some great entertainment. This was their big night of the year and it was made really special for them.

The CEOs and chefs, helped by a huge army of yellow-clad volunteers, made and served a tasty Italian bruschetta for entrée. Working alongside Neil Perry from Rockpool, we then BBQ’d the best garlic chicken with a yoghurt sauce on the planet, and there was good old Aussie pavlova for dessert. So it was a pretty special experience for the guests and hard work for me because I could be described as “less than competent” in the kitchen.

Working with Neil was great, and we had a lot of laughs, however for me it was particularly special that I was able to have my Dad by my side. We were on the grills, cut up and plated food, and the event organisation was excellent. Many people can write cheques or put on a party, but not many want to physically sweat it out and get their hands dirty, and we certainly did this in the kitchens.

The experience has left me humbled and inspired as it was an important reminder that if you’re in a position to give back your time or money you should, and this is the essence of the Aussie brand. I’m already planning how I can make these kinds of experiences possible for the whole Aussie team.

It is a lesson for all CEOs and executives that some people just fall by the way due to tragic events or circumstances beyond their control. They should still be treated with dignity and respect, and that’s what OzHarvest provides.

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