Kal Penn’s swoon factor shot up a thousand fold last week when he prepared a tantalizing Pan-Seared Halibut Taco dish on MasterChef Celebrity Showdown and donated his $25,000 winnings to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA USA) and called on viewers to help buy jackets, mattresses, and blankets for Palestinians in camps.
Take a look at his mouthwatering presentation, he even prepared those masa tortillas from scratch:
Penn, an international celebrity and actor on ABC’s Designated Survivor, is best known for his role as Kumar Patel in the iconic stoner Harold and Kumar comedy series and lead actor in the critically acclaimed Indian-American drama The Namesake, not to mention public service working in the White House Office of Public Engagement. He generated a lot of buzz on social media with his several tweets promoting the show and his choice of charity.
His inspiring explanation:
“Only in America can a guy make tacos on FOX TV, almost lose an eye, &win 25,000 to support refugees. We are so fortunate as Americans to live in a country as prosperous as ours. Especially during the Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa holidays, & in hopes that the New Year will bring peace and prosperity around the world, I thought it was important to choose an organization that directly helps those facing impossible hardships, especially refugees. Much of our own media attention is focused away from the human stories of children and families who are suffering due to displacement against the rule of international law, terrorism, & violence from so many sides. So having the chance to cook to benefit refugee families in MasterChef seemd like the right thing to do.In the last week, at the United Nations, & in washington, DC, secretary Kerry & Ambassador Power called on the international community, including Americans, to come together to raise money & help ensure that compensation & other needs of Palestinian refugees are met. As Secretary Kerry outlined, 1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 2 million are in need of daily assistance. I’m honored to have the chance to cook on behalf of UNRWAUSA’s refugee aid program & join folks in hoping for a peaceful & prosperous 2017 for everyone. Happy New Year!””
Because it is a captivating, dramatic and very funny episode, it brings the plight of Palestinian refugees into the national spotlight and continues to do so as FOX is still featuring the episode online. According to UNRWA, the response has been amazing.
Laila Mokhiber, Palesinian-American Director of Communications for UNRWA USA, told me she was “hanging at the edge of my seat” during the show. “Everybody’s so psyched about this. I knew he was competing but I was still shocked, it kind of made me speechless”.
Because Penn didn’t just support UNRWA with his win, but offered to send “some of you a thank you postcard” for making donations, Mokhiber said it caused a big spike in donations: “people go crazy over him, we’re so lucky to have him on our side.” And let’s face it, he’s a heart-throb.
All in fun and good sportsmanship, Penn’s competitor, actor Cheryl Hines, crossed over to his side of the stage while Penn was immersed in preparing his mouth-watering, beer-tenderized masa tortilla mix for his pan-seared halibut tacos (with aioli-chipotle sauce – also beer based), and pinched him in the eye with a pair of hot kitchen calipers – he howled out in pain — then FOX promptly cut to commercial!
Hines had admitted earlier, after one of the hosts asked her if she was drunk, that she may have been a tad tipsy from sipping beer, the required “mystery ingredient” added to the contestants’ recipes.
I asked Mokhiber if UNRWA had reached out to Penn about the show and she said, amazingly, they had made no arrangement with him at all. She said Penn “thought of this all on his own which is even more exciting. To put it on mainstream, on Fox, the incredible things that people have been talking about, the needs of Palestinian refugees are even more dire than when they were first displaced.”
Abby Smardon, UNRWA USA executive director told Mondoweiss that Penn’s appearance on MasterChef was a huge win for Palestinian refugees. She said it was an issue that “millions of Americans care deeply about,” but that it rarely gets the media attention it deserves.
The lives of Palestinian refugees have been under assault for decades due to Israel’s relentless occupation and the draconian blockade of Gaza.
And Smardon said that for Penn, as an international celebrity, to proudly speak out about his support for Palestinian refugees on primetime TV was a “public validation of what so much of the US community already believes– the rights of Palestinian refugees are human rights, and these rights must be respected.”
I agree with her. I think awareness of Israel’s occupation of Palestine has reached critical mass and millions of Americans do care deeply for this issue, which is why Penn’s choice of charity generated so much press.
In fact, Penn got so much response donating his $25,000 winnings to UNRWA he’s left this 9 day old tweet pinned to the top of his feed:
Lots of great, thoughtful questions about how celebs choose their respective NGOs for celebrity Master Chef! Here’s how I chose mine: pic.twitter.com/RbzwhO6pto
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) January 4, 2017
One of the judges called Kal’s beer marinated halibut tacos “bloody delicious” and personally, I’d like the recipe. If Kal Penn released his recipe online, he’d make a lot of us very happy. And wouldn’t that be a great way to keep the buzz going.
His final words murmured as he was exiting the stage with his competitor was “Oh I can’t see anything”. But Penn sees exactly what millions of us see, and he did something about it in a very big way. You can show your appreciation by visiting UNRWA USA, and making a donation.
Let Penn’s gift be the gift that keeps on giving.
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) January 3, 2017