Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CCA dinner take 2

Again a few months ago we were asked to host a benefit dinner at the hotel that my restaurant is attached to for the Clatsop Community Action Food Bank. Our regional food bank backed by the Oregon Food Bank. If you remember it was a dinner that I was deeply involved with last year, and was a great experience for me. The hustle and organization to pull off a dinner like this is mind blowing. Weeks of meetings, emails, phone calls, research, more meetings, and more emails consumed my daily routine in the restaurant and from home. While my staff is more then capable of pulling a dinner like this off, we again reached out to other local chefs for support. It spreads the financial burden across a plane of other restaurants and in turn other purveyors and in turn is a less expensive event for the CCA to put together, which in turn helps them raise more money, which ideally feeds more people, during a time of year when those in need- need even more. Another year of experience under my belt, and a new title to prove, I went all in. The dinner itself was a huge success last year raising over 40K for the CCA, so the bar was set pretty high. We talked about the service and really got serious about the small things that we needed to deliver for a dinner that was invite only with a ticket price of $150, and while almost anyone who bought a ticket obviously had some sort of pre-existing relationship with the CCA, and was buying a ticket just to be in support of them, and we could've served them almost anything and they would've left happy with the giving they did, we couldn't let that happen. Copious discussions about flatware, glassware, silver, table arrangements, linens, uniforms, and more as we led up to the dinner. If you have ever seen an empty room decorated for a multi course dinner you understand that in the arrangements of the place settings you can actually create a mood, or a flow. Four wine glasses, coffee cups, water glasses, and four courses worth of silver ware on a table makes a statement. A statement that needs to be made when you are working a dinner that people paid this much money for.

Some of the same chefs from last year were invited to help with the food as well as some new restaurants and chefs. Some of the chefs politely declined with previous commitments, and others were disrespectful in their lack of effort to even return a call or email. All in all we assembled a team that I felt really good about. There is a bit of presumption by "outsiders" that all the chef's in a town or city all hang out together as well, and while there is a few chefs outside my company that I speak with on a regular basis, nothing could be further from the truth. The only time I talk with other chefs is when we are volunteering an event together. Or I actually go to their place for dinner, or they come to mine. None of which happen all that often. Furthermore there is always some drama involved when you get that much ego in the same room. Again it was decided that menu/bio/recipe packets were going to be handed out to guests, allowing them if they desire, to replicate the items they had throughout the evening at home. The chefs gathered, the volunteers- mostly again from my Prostart class at the local high school arrived, wine corks were popped, and guests arrived. Cutting a touch from last year we passed two appetizers for half an hour during a sparkling wine reception. Ideally this is important because it gives people a chance to mingle and chat and show off their outfits. If they can do this when I need them to, they won't or at least shouldn't be chatty during service, hence we stay on time. App passed from my Seaside restaurant chef team was a potato and blue cheese gratin topped with confit of pork belly, topped with micro green beats and pear balsamic. My appetizer was a brown sugar and citrus cured salmon with a horseradish aioli on a toasted baguette. We got those rolled out, guests were seated, grace was offered (again in an effort to absolutely control the pace and timing here the priest was given a 2 minute time limit- one of the funniest and most awkward conversations I imagine he had ever had) and we were off to the races. 160 plates in 10 minutes was the goal, break down, re-set the kitchen, repeat for a total of 4 times. An Astoria restaurant was up first with a "true cod" (oddly not really a cod) dish over a carrot puree with marinated fennel and a butter sauce. Second came the beef course of filet mignon, over truffled root vegetables, duck fat baked fingerling potatoes, topped with foie gras butter and oyster mushrooms. Third was a vegetarian dish of a curried squash simosa and a roasted cauliflower sauce. Dessert again was my cohort and myself- a flourless chocolate souffle cake with cinnamon ice cream, hazelnut toffee, and whipped cream. Our purveyors really stepped up and donated almost all of the food involved, and I heard that the meat course food bill was upwards of $1500 dollars alone. For a local company to bite that bullet was amazing.

All in all it was great. Money was raised, people were happy, and I left feeling good about the night. We learned a few things about what to do differently next year, and some of those things become a really fine line of personal preference vs another chefs preference. I was also so impressed with my service staff and their leader, and while we get to do dinners like this once or twice a year, this event is more people then usual and with the addition of outside chef's and help always a bit more stressful. In an odd turn of events the director of the CCA is also my neighbor now so that can't hurt at all. Not bad for a days work. Thanks for reading.

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