Chef Lisa Palermo, hair spiked and dressed in an eye-opening green chef coat that accentuates her trim figure, is not what one expects to walk out the swinging kitchen door at Carnegie House. She looks a little too edgy and contemporary for the wood-paneled library with overstuffed chairs. The Scottish inn ambiance in the dining room is decidedly Old-World European, with an indulgent and manly elegance that calls for a glass of scotch to be warming in your open palm as you sit by the fire.
But Palermo is going to mix it up for her Twilight Dinner on April 25, when she presents “Cote de Sol: A Region to Savour” with a Spanish tapas menu paired with Spanish wines in the midst of the splendid and rarefied elegance.
Diners will first enjoy some tapas in the library and then proceed to a large table in the dining room, where Paella will be served. Tapas, the small plates of Spain, provide diners with an artful variety of flavors, the perfect expression of Palermo’s background as a graduate of both the Culinary Institute of America and the Design Institute of San Diego.
This year is Palermo’s second as a Twilight Dinner host.
“I always thought that the Women’s Resource Center did a wonderful service to women in need. So many women feel there is nowhere to turn, and what they do there is amazing and affects so many lives in amazing ways. I respect all involved at the center and am excited to help in a way that is enjoyable for those who choose to participate.”
Many people in the area choose to support the Centre County Women’s Resource Center by attending one or more of the fundraising events known as the Twilight Dinners, which take place in March, April, May and June each year.
The dinners are donated by the hosts, and of the $100 cost per guest, $60 can be considered your tax-deductible gift, while the entire cost of the ticket goes directly to the center.
The hosts go all out to make sure that the guests are well-taken care of in terms of food and drink and that each table in every site is filled with like-minded people who are willing to support the cause.
Sue and Ron Smith, of Lemont, have been hosting Twilight Dinners for about 20 years, and always collaborate with the same chef.
“We’ve been doing these dinners with Ying (Wushanley) for about 20 years, so lots of people have been able to enjoy his amazing cooking. The WRC has so many valuable services that it’s nice to be able to help the agency raise money and have fun at the same time. Ying and his wife, Geraldine, who is Irish, have been good friends of ours ever since Ying worked with Ron to get his doctor-ate from PSU in sport hist-ory in the ’90s. I do the dessert and beverages,” Sue Smith said.
Joyce and Steve Fonash are veteran hosts, with a 15-year history of Twilight Dinners in their State College home. This year’s dinner will take place June 21 outdoors in their three-quarter acre series of gardens with a patio, a footpath and small ponds.
The Fonashes will have some heavy artillery helping them out. Their son, Dave Fonash, and his business partner, Chef Paul Kendeffy, are the owners of Zola and the Gamble Mill and will help them with their northern Italian menu, to celebrate Joyce’s heritage.
Joyce Fonash was a former board member of the CCWRC and knows very well just whom the events serve.
“They make us aware of the continued existence of domestic violence and sexual abuse. They help to continue the vital and surprisingly varied work of a dedicated group of people. They serve our neighbors, friends and family members who have experienced or are experiencing violence and abuse and often are in desperate need of safety, emotional help, material help and support in their process of healing. The dinners remind us of the grass roots of this effort and of a time when Centre County was a much simpler place. They are also a lot of fun. You get to meet interesting people, have a great meal and support a very worthy cause. It’s a real win-win situation,” she said.
Current CCWRC board member Gina Ikenberry shares the perspective of a relatively new host on the event.
“My husband, John, and I have attended many Twilight Dinners in the past, and each time we’ve gone to one, we leave feeling like it was such a great evening. We’ve talked about hosting one for several years, but felt a little intimidated about it. But we finally took the plunge last year and had a great time as hosts, so it was a no-brainer for this year to do it again,” she said.
The Ikenberrys will prepare a traditional Italian menu for their dinner on May 17, with homemade manicotti, various antipasta trays, braciole, and panna cotta for dessert.
Always keeping the mission front and center is important, said Ikenberry.
“It’s been a long tradition for the CCWRC to have these dinners. It’s such a great fundraiser because 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to the CCWRC. The hosts also act as good-will ambassadors for the center, as we ask them to talk a little about the CCWRC does. We provide the hosts with all of the info that they share with their guests — or we try to have at least one board member at each dinner so that they can share first hand info with everyone at the dinner,” she said.
The 2014 Twilight Dinner series commences Sunday with a Spring Spectacular at Spats. Don’t try to go — it’s already filled. But many chairs are still available at other dinners, with gracious hosts ready to serve you — and their community.
Anne Quinn Corr is a former caterer and culinary educator who is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” a cookbook about regional foods. She writes this monthly Well-Seasoned column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.