Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 2012 Great Chefs Event in words and visuals

This entry is the full on follow up to the blog I posted up last week speaking about what the then upcoming event was all about.  Just in case ya'll didn't see it...

The 2012 Great Chefs Event benefits Alex's Lemonade Stand and aids in funding pediatric cancer research. Hosted by the Vetri Foundation For Children, this annual event features a host of the world's top chefs all donating their valuable time for the cause at hand.  There were silent auctions for items ranging from bottles of wine, to cookbooks to autographed memorabilia by the Phillies Hunter Pence.  For a brief time there was a live auction where attendees could bid on higher-end items like a twenty course dinner from Philly favorite, Chef Michael Solomonov, that included lots of wine (can you say 2 bottles of 2003 Dom Perignon among them).  Ever dream of having dinner with chefs Marc Vetri and Mario Batali up in NYC at Birreria?  Yep, that was up for grabs too. It was truly amazing to hear the bidding on these few items; 19K, 25K and all that cash going right to Alex's Lemonade! Before the night was over we'd hear an announcement that over a million dollars had been raised due in large part to the commitment of the people putting on the fundraiser. People like Alex's mother Liz Scott, who spoke to the audience before the auctioning began, reading all of us the eulogy she read at her daughter's funeral. People like Food Network television host Marc Summers (a member of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation's Board of Directors) and Chef Marc Vetri; two folks who I swear made clones of themselves so that they could be in all places at all times during the event, talking and being general ambassadors of the evening's cause.  Certainly not to be left off the mentions list are people and groups like the Five Below retail chain of "trend-right, extreme-value merchandise" who found it in their corporate hearts to donate a check worth two hundred thousand dollars.

Indeed, there were great food and drinks. There were celebrity chefs, financial tycoons and hot women; all necessary parts of big event-style parties.  But what will forever differentiate this high-end culinary bash was the ceaseless generosity on all levels and that is what made it a night I won't soon forget...and look forward to attending again next year.

But "where are the photos," I'm sure you're asking?  "Where is your usual narrative?"  Duh! It is right here, my friends:

I arrived at the party straight from my day job, which I hadn't eaten at in preparation for the night's chow down. After skulking about for a moment or two the first thing I had to eat was offered up by Chef Marco Canora, co-owner of "Hearth" in New York.  It was a slider-sized smoked beef brisket sandwich with beer mustard and pickles and it was out of this world! The brisket was so tender...that crispy pickle was a perfect contrast and set the bar for what I'd try the rest of the night. Chef Canora had me hyped!

Hype? Hell I was also thirsty now and after a stressful workday, in need of an adult beverage.  Who better than hometown Philly brewers Yards to supply me with a nice cold glass of their seasonal Saison to quench my thirst and calm my nerves?  We spoke for a time and I can promise you all that sooner rather than later I'll have a full blog dedicated to a tour of their facility and a drinking of many of their beers.  Can't wait to hang out with this personable bunch again!

For a geek like me, some of the highlights were seeing people I watch all the time on television. Despite it being criminal, I didn't taste the wares of Iron Chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Jose Garces but it didn't make it any less exciting to see them.  I've eaten at their restaurants plenty of times so I didn't feel that cheated.  What made me feel a little ripped off was that I found Charm City Cakes owner Chef Duff Goldman doing what I was doing - wandering around the event and sampling all the yummies - instead of "working" and giving me a taste of one of his incredible cakes!  Yes, I jest. I chatted with Duff for a few minutes, asking him about what he'd been up to since his "Ace of Cakes" series wrapped.  He told me he'd been working lots in California to firmly establish "Charm City Cakes West" and basically enjoying life without the time restrictions of making TV.  He'd lost some weight from being able to hit the gym and came off every bit as laid-back-everyman that television portrayed him as.  When I brought up the topic of television being a necessary evil to him at this point, in true Duff-style he told me that, "not to sound douche-y" but at this point his "brand is strong enough" without any more television visibility.  He couldn't have said it better in my opinion.

Marc Summers, Duff Goldman,Jeff Michaud, Jeff Benjamin

Time for more food! I was on a slider kick, which brought me over to Chef Rocco Whalen, owner of Cleveland, Ohio's "Farenheit," "Rocco's at the Q" and "Rosie & Rocco's".  The chef and his crew were serving up char-grilled lamb sliders on a brioche bun with a mint & lemon glaze. Lamb and mint together are the equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter, so this was a no-brainer.  But those little gems of lamb were cooked perfectly and remained nice and juicy.  It was so hard to not grab a second and I think that observation could be said for others too.  While I stood at Chef Whalen's table eating my slider there were two others standing there ravenously doing the same.  I wish someone had a photo of the three of our most serious faces as we ate.

Before this eve I never heard of Monks / Russian River Brewing Company, but I can tell you I won't soon forget them.  The unique taste their Supplication Ale (7% ABV) had from sour cherries and being aged in used Pinot Noir barrels was right up my alley.  It was crisp and refreshing in a totally different way than I was used to as a drinker of many Belgian whites. Additionally, I'm a real fanatic for fruit beers and even off just one glass, I'd easily place this one in my imaginary top five.

Though I wanted to drink more, I forced myself to continue alternating between food then drink.  This time I needed to devour some of Chef Michael Schlow's fantastic Super Mac N' Cheese from his restaurant "Tico" in Boston, Massachusetts. Those crispy breadcrumbs we the real clincher for me.  Serrano ham is always nice, as is a really creamy cheese and veggies.  This is one I'm going to attempt to replicate at home, being a mac and cheese mad scientist myself.

And then I deviated...

There was a momentary opening where the Shake Shack gang was handing out burger halves and unlike my journey to their location up in the city, I made it into this line and got me a half of a Shack Burger.  Boy, let me tell you...this burger was freaking OUTSTANDING!  Check out my previous blog about the Shack to see, albeit playfully, I was a little skeptical about how tasty their burger would be, especially being across the street from Iron Chef Garces' "Village Whiskey" and it's signature "Whiskey King."  But I will tell you without a single joke or snicker, Shake Shack's burger is the real deal and certainly enters into my later in the year "best burger" competition.  Culinary Manager Mark Rosati (center in below image) and his gang are a welcome addition to the Philly foodscape.  My only regret is that I never tasted the "Lemon Meringue Pie" custard they also brought. What is wrong with me? (don't answer that)

Joe Campanale is partner and Beverage Director of New York's "L'Artusi", "Anfora" and "Ellabess." On this night he was making and shaking a blueberry bourbon lemonade and told me it may have been one of the simplest drinks he'd ever made.  Just as I told him, sometimes there is perfection in simplicity. Joe's drink was the only beverage at the event that I had more than one of. Unfortunately I drank them so fast that I never shot a photo!

Since I had been close by, I thought it high time to pay Brooklyn Brewery a visit.  They were offering their company's Summer Ale, as well as an exclusive beer that they make for Shake Shack, Shack Meister Ale.  I took a swig of their seasonal and left the exclusive for when I finally made it to the real Shack.

There was one more thing that I had to try before I called it a night and that would be Chef Suzanne Goin's s'mores. Look at these things! I stood there and had no shame in eating three in a matter of seconds.  Some people were being nice and taking it in bites. Sorry, I don't work that way. I just popped those suckers into my mouth whole and chewed'em up. That dark chocolate and melty marshmallow was sweet, sweet heaven and the perfect finish to my dining.

The finish to my blog will be a simple photo and caption ending because there were a lot of sights where I may not have interacted.  That doesn't mean I shouldn't show'em off!  If you've got the cash, be on the lookout for this event in 2013, it is well worth the price of entry and never forget that your dough is being spent for a great cause in Alex's Lemonade Stand in their fight against childhood cancer.

Liz Scott

Michael Solomonov and friend

Marc Vetri and friend

Gina DePalma's little lemon olive oil cake

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