Great Chefs Event Was a Great Event

Last night I attended the Vetri Foundation’s Great Chefs Event at Urban Outfitters headquarters in the Navy Yard. The star-studded event raised a boat load of money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Culinary luminaries from around the country showed up to lend a hand for the event.

I’m a pretty laid back guy who probably was last in awe of someone when I met Wayne Gretzky when I was 12. But I was pretty geeked up for this event and as Marc Vetri said, why wouldn’t I be. Great chefs, TV stars and great chefs who are TV stars were at every turn. And as exciting as that is, getting to try bites from some of the best restaurants around the country in one place is an opportunity I recommend to everyone. Save a dollar a day and you’ll be in with cab fare home next year.

After fasting for the day I was ravished when they I was finally unleashed on the stations I couldn’t help but head right to the Shake Shack station. The temptation to try one of the first burgers served in Philadelphia just seemed like the journalistic thing to do. The gooey cheese and great proportions will make Shake Shack a happy addition to the Philadelphia burger scene.

Incidentally, who’s in with me to eat the first Frankenstein Burger when Shake Shack finally opens? Patties from Pub & Kitchen’s Churchill, Village Whiskey’s Whiskey King and a Shack Stack between two buns. “It’s alive!”

After that we went decidedly more upscale with Gabrielle Hamilton’s shrimp with anchovy butter and lemon zest. Interestingly there were several restaurants showcasing shrimp. I was a bit surprised as I’ve suspected chefs are kind of over shrimp. The best rendition belonged to John Besh’s shrimp and grits dish. The New Orleans chef had the floor buzzing before we had made a single loop.

Among the highlights in a night full of them was Craft’s swordfish tacos. They were served up gyro-style, cut off a rotating spit. Tom Colicchio wasn’t there, begging off with a herniated disc but that hardly diminished anyone’s enthusiasm.

Another standout offering was Roasted Pigs Head from Jonathan Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland.

Rounding out my favorite bites was the smoked fish dip with radish and and celery dish presented by Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Los Angeles’ Animal and Son of a Gun.

The most unusual plating had to be that of Washing DC chef Katsuya Fukushima who was meticulously preparing lemonade scallops presented on spiced limes and topped with a poof of cotton candy.

There was of course great wine, cocktails and beer. Even after a full Beer Week I couldn’t resist trying Brooklyn Brewing’s Concoction. Part of their Brewmaster’s Series, the beer is based on the Scotch based cocktail, the Penicillin. It blew me and others away with its peat smoked malt, minced ginger, lemon juice and wildflower honey. Look for it on draft shortly.

Of course the reason all these talented chefs were turning out this amazing food was to raise money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. And they sure did that with the live auction. Dinner with Jose Garces went for over $20,000 as did a Marc Vetri and Michael Symon dinner. I tried to get Kevin Sbraga’s arm up for one item, but with his lease signing for the former Chew Man Chu, he’s putting his money right into that project.

Great was the superlative of the evening as it truly was a great event with great bites and for a great cause. And it’s so cool that it all happens here in Philadelphia.

Consider saving now for next year’s event, or do what many others did and volunteer for the event. I recognized many of my favorite industry folk helping out.