Scenes From Star Chefs & Vintners Gala

Tasmanian ocean trout with potato rosti and quail egg

Take 80 of the Bay Area’s celebrated chefs and 76 top vintners. Put them together in one venue, and what you have is the 22nd annual Star Chefs & Vintners Gala last Sunday at San Francisco’s Fort Mason.

The lavish event is the main annual fund-raiser for Meals on Wheels, which provides more than 16,000 meals each week to homebound seniors in San Francisco. Yours truly was invited as a guest to enjoy the festivities that featured almost every well-known chef imaginable — from Chris Consentino of Incanto in San Francisco to Maggie Pond of Cesar in Berkeley to Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco to Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco to Richard Reddington of Redd in Yountville. For the sixth year in a row, Chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard in San Francisco was the gala head chef.

Rabbit terrine with pickled ramp salsa

The $400-per-person gala started off with a walk-around reception, where 40 chefs doled out specialty hors d’oeuvres throughout the cavernous hall.

Saddle of lamb with shelling beans and foraged mushrooms

Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani of Ame in San Francisco set up their popular Nagashi somen station. Made of bamboo and looking a little like an amusement park game, you “catch” your somen with a small sieve as a tangle comes shooting down a bamboo trough flowing with water.

Catch your somen if you can.

You didn’t have to worry about missing, either. Doumani stood at the ready with her own handled basket to catch it if you didn’t. Once you nabbed your somen, you transferred it to a small cup filled with dashi, chopped ahi, salmon eggs, and konbu slivers to enjoy.

Nate Appleman (with the tattoo sleeves) of San Francisco's A16 checks on preparations.

Backstage, an army of chefs prepped the first course for dinner. A bevy of plates were laid out at the ready over long stainless steel tables. Once they went out into the dining room, a whole new set of plates went down in anticipation of the second course to come.

Chef Mark Sullivan of Spruce in San Francisco

In the dining room, gilded round tables were set up for dinner. Two large screens showed the action in the kitchen, as the chefs got down to plating the courses. The dining room was divided into nine sections, with each section enjoying a different menu prepared by a different team of three chefs.

Chef Sean O'Toole of Yountville's Bardessono

At my table, we were treated to:

* Sonoma County rabbit terrine, fava beans, and pickled ramp salsa from Chef Steve Litke of the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant; Stage Left Cellars 2005 Viognier

* Lightly smoked Tasmanian ocean trout with potato rosti, quail egg, and pancetta vinaigretteby Chef Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco; Palmeri 2004 Syrah Van Ness Vineyard

* Savory roasted saddle of lamb, shelling beans, and foraged mushrooms by Chef Mark Sullivan of Spruce in San Francisco; Silver Oak 2004 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Chef Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena

An array of desserts were later laid out in the main hall, including kalamansi tart with beet caviar from Chef Kyle Caporicci of CandyBar in San Francisco, and cherry profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce from Pastry Chef Daniel Mangione of Navio at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay.

This year’s gala raised $1.1 million, the same amount as last year. It’s enough money to provide about 220,000 meals to home-bound seniors. Even in this year’s dreadful economy, guests worked themselves into a bidding frenzy last Sunday for one-of-a-kind lots in the live auction. One item — a pizza party for 20 at Chef Oakes’ Wine Country home — went for $23,000. A lotta dough for a lot of dough.

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  • Looks like an incredible opportunity to taste the culinary excellence of the Bay Area in a single sitting. What more could you ask for?

  • Sounds fantastic! The ocean trout with quail egg is just gorgeous.

  • What a wonderful event to attend and the food looks just fabulous! The Tasmanian trout sounds excellent!

  • $400 per person! At first my eyes boggled at the price, then as I viewed the pics my eyes boggled once more at the descriptions of incredible delicious food and I decided they’re worth every penny!

  • I’m going to install a somen trough in my apartment leading from my kitchen to my sofa. You know, it’s a studio so it’s not that far to travel. Thanks for the idea! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Great meal for a good cause.

    I wonder how many of these kinds of events these name chefs get invited to every year. Are they paid for their time away from their own restaurants?

  • Sounds like an awesome event for a good cause. The photos made me drool and I would have loved to have tried to catch my own somen!

  • I think the Single Guy may be on to something. It’s a wonder that home troughs have not come into vogue.

  • Single Guy Chef: I heartily agree. The first time I saw this trough, I was totally wanting one for my own house. Model train tracks snaking through your abode is so yesterday. I’d rather have an aqueduct system to send fresh somen to me, no matter what room I happen to be in at home at the time.

    Nate: My guess is the chefs volunteer for these charity events, but still get paid by their restaurants. In fact, cooking stints at the James Beard House may be illustrious, but chefs pay a pretty penny for that privilege, especially if they have to fly from the West Coast. A California chef, who shall remain unnamed, flew his crew to cook at the Beard House in New York. He had to bring all the ingredients, and provide for all the flowers at the place setting. Even the butter on the table had to be sourced by him. It cost him about $10,000 to do all of that.

  • My mouth is watering. The trout topped with the quail egg is so tempting…

  • Nate: Carolyn is of course correct! For the Star Chefs & Vintners Gala, the chefs are all volunteers. They donate their time, all the food they prepare for guests (and we’re talking Hog Island Oysters, Wagyu Beef, Niman Ranch Lamb!), even their transportation to the event and the staffing required to prepare their dishes, all for Meals On Wheels of SF. Pretty cool.

    And Carolyn, I’m SO glad you enjoyed yourself! ๐Ÿ™‚

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