This year's 23rd Annual Star Chefs and Vintners Gala benefiting Meals on Wheels was a feast of a fete, with more than 70 chefs working their magic behind the scenes, over 75 wineries pouring, and a steady stream of boozy concoctions coming from a few of the city's favorite bartenders.
The hors d'oeuvres "grazer" was superb and barely left room for dinner. Of the (way too many) bites I had, some favorites were:
Janine Falvo's (Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar) adorable mini cone filled with orange marlin tartar with green peas and black truffle shavings. Notably, the green peas had been hit with some liquid nitrogen and then transformed into a powder form before being folded into the tartar. Fresh, light, and tasting of spring.
Jeff Banker and Lori Baker's (Baker & Banker) house-smoked trout on potato latke with pickled beets, shaved fennel and horseradish crème fraiche. Crispy and satisfying with familiar flavors amped up with great ingredients.
Jennifer Biesty's (Scala's Bistro) duck liver mousse crostini topped with Swanton Farms strawberries, Sicilian pistachios and Villa Manodori balsamic. A rich, salty, sweet, balanced bite of perfect.
Nathan Beriau and Patrick Callarec's (The Ritz-Carlton SF) seared jumbo scallop over uni risotto. The scallop was silky smooth and quivering inside, and the sea urchin roe risotto was pure decadence. Felt rich just eating this little plate…which was probably the idea…after wining and dining so well, one could sure feel like she had Benjamins lining her clutch. All part of the plan, I'm sure, as the Silent Auction was well underway at this point.
Kudos to the bartenders as well. Those cocktails were works of art. I fell in love with Scott Beattie's (H.M.S. Cocktails) John Chapman -- a martini of St. George whiskey, lemon juice, ginger simple syrup, local apple juice, and St. George Pear au de Vie, topped with Thai coconut-apple-ginger foam and dehydrated apple chips, a sprinkle of cinnamon and pretty flower petals. Purrr.
Needless to say, by actual dinner time, folks' paddle hands were well-oiled. A record-breaking $1.2 million was raised this year. Not surprising, considering there were some big ticket items on the auction block, like getting whisked away on a private jet to Sun Valley for three nights, during which Nancy Oakes (Boulevard) herself will prepare dinner for you and 7 of your closest friends (Winning bid: $38K).
By far, the coolest thing of the evening was getting to witness the mass of top chefs preparing the courses behind the curtain. It was a sight to behold. A sea of plates, chef's whites, and incredible camaraderie. It was like a well-orchestrated dance -- teams of chefs searing, plating, garnishing…dozens of skilled hands hovering over rows upon rows of plates…and a procession of fantastic servers at the ready.
Gala Chef Chair Nancy Oakes oversaw the 10 teams of chefs, with each team producing a different 3-course menu for close to 1000 guests. Given the scale of this endeavor, it was truly impressive how completely under control the entire operation was. I caught Oakes surveying the scene with a smile on her face and she must have been thinking the same thing as she commented on how calm everyone was. No frenzy, no panic. Just brisk, precise work, and lots of smiles. And this is why these are our star chefs.
The evening ended with a stunning dessert reception with every sweet imaginable – cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, mochi, affogato, chocolate in all shapes and sizes – indulgent confections all laid out to be ravished with gusto. By then it seemed, everyone was too sauced to count calories. Favorites of the evening were Jessica Sullivan's (Boulevard) summer berry brioche pudding and Taste Catering's fantastical Alice in Wonderland-inspired spread.
Generally speaking though, I think it's safe to say that every excessive calorie was consumed with relish that evening. For a good cause, but of course.