Eats & Drinks: Benefit dinner brings out the best from local chefs

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but there is no such thing as too many chefs when each is focused on one contribution to a multi-course culinary extravaganza.

Nothing was spoiled except the waistlines of the 300 attendees on Monday evening at Mountain View Country Club outside Boalsburg. Eighteen chefs participated in the 14th annual Chefs on Stage fundraiser, hosted by State College Magazine, and the camaraderie and spirit of cooperation among those typically tucked away in the back of the house was evident.

The benefit raised more than $75,000 for the State College Food Bank, which recently moved into its new and much more visible location on South Atherton Street in State College. The food bank served almost 800 households in Centre County last year, a total of 2,011 individuals. Sadly, nearly one third of those served were children.

Sample Media, publisher of State College Magazine, hosted the food-centric fundraiser, started in 2002 under then SCM publisher Jana King. A small army of staff makes it happen, with chefs and gift donors for the silent and live auction recruited throughout the year. Amy Mearkle, the dynamic marketing director for DelGrosso’s in Altoona, and amiable Froggy 98 radio personality Jerry Valeri emceed the event and kept the crowd focused on the overall mission, driven with a steady cadence by auctioneer Ron Gilligan, who masterfully pushed the bidding to new heights.

“We are so grateful for the generosity the community shows each and every year. We had another record event at Chefs on Stage. One hundred percent goes to the State College Food Bank. That is what our event is all about,” said Marlene Sample, president of State College Magazine.

Tables are purchased for the dinner, usually by businesses in the community, at $1,000 for a table of eight. There are no individual tickets sold, and there is no need to advertise to sell those tables. The event is always sold out.

Diners chose from two appetizer stations that included Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering chef Harrison Schailey’s Goat Cheese Fritters with their signature Fig & Olive Relish, Panda Express’ Chef Hao Lu’s sushi assortment, Juniata College Food Service’s Chef Patrick Goodwin’s Pulled Pork Roulade with Roasted Fall Vegetables and Gigi’s chef John Glickner’s Maque Choux — a fresh corn, andouille sausage and pepper melange so popular in Louisiana.

Another nod to the fine cuisine of New Orleans was the Muffeleta Bruschetta created by Zach Lorber, current president of the Southern Alleghenies American Culinary Federation chapter and chef at Penn State Altoona’s Port Sky Café. The classic sandwich made of ham, salami, provolone, chopped olives, pickled peppers and capers was served appetizer style. A five-year veteran of the event, Lorber said he “enjoys working to raise funds for a great cause. There is a core group of chefs who participate every year so it is a fun opportunity for networking, idea sharing and delicious food.”

Passed hors d’oeuvres included The Nittany Lion Inn chef Andrew Monk’s Duck Confit Taco, Penn State Campus Catering chef Jason Kroboth’s Truffle Leek Tartlets, Barrel 21 Distillery and Dining chef Lisa Palermo’s Spicy Korean Meatballs with Coconut Bamboo Rice and Centre Hill Country Club chef Cody Pierce’s Teriyaki Summer Roll.

Chef Craig Hamilton from the Village at Penn State prepared the salad this year, a composition of Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale Pesto, Israeli Couscous and Cranberries with Baby Arugula and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds. Hamilton has been working the event for more than 10 years and said that he feels “honored each and every time to come back. It has definitely grown over the years, which is a great thing, and each year it’s exciting to see which local chefs participate and what cool, innovative culinary dishes they will prepare.”

Chef Tony Sapia, of Gemelli Bakers, provided an assortment of breads, rolls and pretzels for the dinner. And not one but two rounds of entrees were served family style to the round tables of 10 people each.

Entree 1 included Fasta & Ravioli Co. chef Bob Ricketts’ Lobster and Sweet Corn Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade, The Allen Street Grill chef Bert Burger’s Mediterranean Chicken with Ratatouille and Foxdale Village chef Jeffrey Boggie’s Marinated Flank Steak with Mushroom Trinity Reduction.

Boggie, who is a certified executive chef through the American Culinary Federation, reminisced about last year and where he found inspiration for this year’s entree.

“Last year I had the opportunity to dine at the table with my general manager and director. I experienced the food and flavors while deconstructing the plates one by one in my head to find an avenue for this year’s menu. This is what you do when meeting and mixing with other members of the culinary community and the ACF. Talking, cooking and living food on a day to day basis comes naturally and is a part of you. The ACF has given me the opportunity to become the best I can be in a field that is highly competitive.”

Round 2 of the entrees included Kelly’s Steak and Seafood chef Sean Kelly’s Lemongrass-Crusted Scallops with Tropical Fruit Relish and Zola Kitchen & Wine Bar chef Andrew Hufnagel’s Venison Wellington with Spinach and Demi-Glace.

Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, located on Decker Road above Potters Mills, provided the white wines for the evening and Starr Hill Vineyards, located outside Curwensville, provided the red wines.

Wegmans chef Stephen Ast provided an assortment of dazzling desserts and Au Bon Pain chef Darby Cummings contributed Chocolate Croissants for those who saved room for something sweet at the end. Ast, another ACF member, was “pleased to represent Wegmans at the community fundraiser for such a worthy cause. It’s great to spend time with other chefs and to be a part of the whole process.” Diners lined up for the exquisitely prepared chocolate bombes and mini ganache-topped cheesecake — hungry or not.

Many of the chefs that night were assisted by their sous chefs, and Boggie summed up the value of exposing the next generation to the benefit dinner.

“Once I committed to the event I asked one of my staff to assist me. Jordan Jasper was elated at the opportunity. We chose a dish that has been highly successful within our operation. His desire and energy are contagious for me. I feel strong and driven to work side by side with a young person early in his career. It is an honor to have the opportunity to pass the torch on to those we work with.”

The October meeting of the Southern Alleghenies ACF chapter will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at Gigi’s. The presenters are Sarah Potter, Stacey Budd and Jim Eisenstein from the Friends & Farmers Cooperative, who will let the chefs know how they can connect with local producers. The meeting is open to anyone interested in food and eager to make culinary connections here in central Pennsylvania. There is no fee to attend and no need to be a current member of the ACF. For more info, contact Zach Lorber at zachlorber@yahoo.com or check out their Facebook page www.facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs.