Celebrity chef David Chang, founder of the wildly successful Momofuku restaurant brand, is a force to be reckoned with in the culinary world, but he’s also pretty savvy on a lot of other fronts as well.
Momofuku means lucky peach, and luck was certainly with Chang when he sank his teeth into the top prize on last week’s episode of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’
Winning a million bucks may be about as exciting as life gets and Chang was certainly amazed to have beaten the odds—but even more thrilling was the prospect of just how all that money would be spent.
That’s because no matter what he earned on the show, Chang had already earmarked his winnings to go to a charity that’s near and dear to his heart: the Southern Smoke Foundation, an emergency relief fund for folks in the food and beverage industry.
According to their website, to date, the Southern Smoke Foundation has “distributed more than $5.7 million, both directly to people in need via the Emergency Relief Fund and to organizations that represent the needs of people in our industry.”
While Southern Smoke was established in 2017, COVID-19’s devastating impact on restaurants, bars, and catering companies in 2020 has made the need for financial crisis intervention all the more urgent.
“I’m so honored that Dave chose Southern Smoke as his charity,” founder Chris Shepherd told CNN. “Now, more than ever, with indoor dining shut down in many parts of the country and temperatures dropping to prohibit outdoor dining, food and beverage industry employees are desperate.”
When Chang reached the $500,000 mark, Millionaire host Jimmy Kimmel cautioned him that no celebrity contestant had ever taken home “the big check.” Chang seriously considered walking away, but trusting his luck, he decided to go all in.
“Having a million dollars right now, in this moment, is a game-changer for many, many families,” he said during the show. “And yes, half a million is as well… and I want to say ‘No, just take the money!’—but I’m not.”
With the help of lifeline buddy, ESPN correspondent Mina Kimes—who coached him that Benjamin Harrison was likely the first U.S. President to have electricity in the White House—Chang gave his final answer.
Within seconds the set erupted in celebration.
“Always wanted to hold a giant check on television,” Millionaire writer/director Alan Yang gushed, tweeting a photo of Chang, Kimmel, the check, and himself. “Thanks @MillionaireTV! Asian trivia dream team ftw.”
While the camera-friendly big check is likely just a stage prop, the money it represents will have a huge impact. Southern Smoke estimates Chang’s million-dollar “lucky peach” will benefit approximately 500 food and beverage workers in need.