It was a star-studded chef affair on Sunday night at Pier 48 in San Francisco, as more than 70 Bay Area top toques turned out to cook up a storm for a sold-out crowd in support of a noble cause.
More than 1,000 folks wined, dined and mingled at the sold-out 25th “Star Chefs & Vintners Gala,” the main fund-raiser for Meals on Wheels, the San Francisco organization that provides nutritious meals and support services to home-bound seniors. Last year’s event raised $1.4 million. Yours truly was lucky enough to be invited as a guest this year.
For the ninth time, Chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard and Prospect, both in San Francisco, took the reins as gala chair for this megawatt event. The evening kicked off with a walk-around reception, in which mixologists shook up cocktails, vintners poured special vintages and a bevy of chefs manned stations to turn out gourmet noshes.
Chefs Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, the dynamic duo behind Terra and Bar Terra, both in St. Helena, prepared bowls of their fabulous ramen complete with succulent pork slices and a oozy poached quail egg.
Chef Victor Scargle of Lucy at Bardessono in Yountville served up cones of Georgia shrimp atop soba noodle salad made with the restaurant’s own rau ram herb, while Chef Ron Siegel of Parallel 37 in San Francisco followed the Asian vibe with a juicy scallop in dashi broth.
Nobody could resist Bon Appetit Management Company Chef Robbie Lewis’ duck proscuitto draped over crisp waffles or the vibrant salmon mousse canapes by All Spice in San Mateo that were adorned with edible flowers.
As guests noshed, more chefs were squired away in the expansive makeshift kitchen prepping for dinner. Yes, after all those appetizers, there was still a three-course dinner to sit down to.
Chefs were busy grilling, making sauces and starting their plating.
At this gala, 27 dinner chefs are divided into teams of three. They work together to prepare a first course, a second course and an entree for each table. As a guest, you don’t know until you take your seat to see the menu in front of you who will be preparing your dinner that night. The surprise is half the fun. Will you be enjoying marinated asparagus with Castelmagno crema by Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco in San Francisco; kampachi with beets and avocado by Chef Richard Reddington of Redd in Yountville; rabbit terrine by Chef Dennis Leary of Canteen in San Francisco; or spring lamb with butterball potatoes, fennel and black olives by Traci Des Jardins of Jardiniere in San Francisco? It’s all dependent upon where you sit.
My husband and I were privileged to enjoy a starter of sweet English peas, sesame and spring garlic by Chef Brandon Jew of Bar Agricole in San Francisco, followed by a juicy roast lamb belly with favas and king trumpet mushrooms from Chef Emmanuel Eng of Maverick in San Francisco. Our main course was a comforting slab of smoked beef brisket with creamy, cheesy fennel-potato gratin by Chef Laurence Jossel of Nopa in San Francisco.
The live auction begins half-way through dinner. You better have packed your black card, as this room was full of big spenders with generous hearts. The night’s highest bid was racked up for the “Healdsburg Holiday” package, in which Chef Oakes will invite you to her Healdsburg home, where she’ll cook with Chef Charlie Palmer to prepare lunch for eight. The winning bid? $40,000. Not far behind was a $30,000 winning bid for “The Ultimate Napa Night,” a dinner for up to 12 at the French Laundry with Harlan Estate wines. By the end of the night, a record-breaking $1.9 million had been raised for Meals on Wheels.
After the dinner, pastry chefs set up tables groaning with Humphry Slocombe ice cream sandwiches, Waterbar’s sea salt-flecked chocolate cookies, the Ritz-Carlton of San Francisco’s peanut butter-chocolate bars, the Village Pub of Woodside’s pistachio cake with roasted strawberries, plus a whole lot more.
With a sip of Blue Bottle Coffee, who could ask for more?