United Cerebral Palsy Central California board Vice President Keith Allen knows how to pull people together for a good cause.
Allen, a retired chef and broadcast photojournalist, has been involved with UCPCC since 1991, when he was introduced to the organization through the national UCP telethon.
Without Keith and his wife, retired ABC30 news anchor Liz Harrison, there would not be the Pulling Strings gala fundraiser, which raises money for UCPCC programs and where Keith serves the famous dish from his days as a Nicola’s chef: the stuffed steak.
We talked with Keith about the future of UCPCC, his involvement with the organization and which recipe he keeps a secret.
How did you become involved with UCPCC?
I got involved when I started working at Channel 30. They had been involved with UCP for several years, with the local telethon. That is where I first met Ed and Vonny and Brian [Sturgeon].
Why is UCPCC important to you?
Quite frankly, to me it’s family. We are representing and standing up for folks who need a voice. … For me it started out with shooting the stories and going to the students’ homes and meeting their parents and becoming part of their lives. And becoming part of their lives means they’re my friends. It’s important to me that they have the voice of whether being represented by the board members or their families or their co-workers. … It’s an honor and privilege to be involved.
What do you think the future holds for UCPCC?
The future is limitless because of the technology the students have available to them – their communication skills have skyrocketed using adaptive technology. I see more poets, more authors … limitless possibilities to grow into other areas of our world no matter what level they are at.
What motivates you?
Love for the students. … It’s about being a representative for the students and looking out for the best interest of the students. We’ve had a number of challenges through the years … but that’s why we are involved.
Pulling Strings started with your involvement at UCPCC. How did that event come about?
“I’ve always been into music, playing piano when I was young, then guitars. You’re pulling strings there. Well, it seemed natural that you’re pulling people together to get this dinner on – ‘pulling strings.’ ”
I was sitting in church once and … the pastor talked about skills that God gives you. I was given a set of skills: cooking, teaching, entertaining. Doing Pulling Strings allows for all of that. It stirs the creative juices for me.
What would you like people to know about UCPCC?
That we’re family. UCPCC is a family looking out for family. UCPCC is love. We are more than our name!
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
It started out when I was in high school, just learning the creative aspects of cooking. …. It’s fun to make something out of scratch. It’s like painting: It’s art. … Working in TV was practically like working in a restaurant – the hours kinda suck, you work holidays, mornings and overnights. But the creativity … is there whether it’s food or video because you’re still using your eyes and ears and the rest of your senses. It can be a Picasso or a Goya … but it’s still in an individual’s interpretation of it.
What is your favorite dish to serve? And what is your least favorite?
I really like all kinds of cuisines. …. I can eat breakfast three times a day. That is my favorite meal. When you’re a chef, you’re cooking, tasting the food, seeing how it is. So my taste buds are shot. So what I end up having for dinner is a bowl of cereal and a glass of wine.
My least favorite is liver. Liver and onions. I love the smell, but the taste – nah.
You are known for your stuffed steak recipe. Is there a recipe you use that you keep secret? If so, what is it and why is it so important to you?
I’ve shared the stuffed steak recipe with some folks, but a lot of times they can’t figure out how to stuff it. Probably my stuffed salmon. I have a list of ingredients, but it still comes down to interpretation. Cooking is like jazz – there are variations. I can cook the same thing twice or three times, and each time it’s gonna be different.
There are recipes I keep to myself. One is something I call “the sauce of love.” And our family ravioli recipe from my great-grandparents Carlo and Flora Nan.
If Earth were going to be destroyed by an asteroid, what’s the last thing you’re eating?
My last meal would be chicken and dumplings and collard greens. I love that Southern comfort food.