For the past five years, I’ve played “kitchen liaison” (or kitchen Lee-ee-son, as I like to say) at the Fred Hutch Premier Chefs Dinner and fundraising auction. I did it again last Sunday, hanging out with some of my favorite chefs, watching as they showed up at Sodo Park by Herban Feast and in a few short hours produced a multi-course meal for 300 generous donors, helping raise a whopping $775,000 for cancer research.
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[In case you were wondering, that’s Skillet’s Josh Henderson with his back to the camera. Recognize the rest of those folks? That’s some bigtime talent there.]
Among the donors was Top Chef Master and keynote speaker Rick Bayless, who upped the ante on live auction number 7: dinner for two at his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo (plus first-class airfare and hotel accommodations, among other goodies). But wait, there’s more! — he said, stepping up to the plate (and the mike) as hands shot in the air while he added to the package: a behind-the-scenes restaurant tour! appetizers first at his private residence! add four more guests for a party of six!
Fierce bidding ensued, making Rick’s the No. 1 auction item of the night, raising $35,000.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen . . .
I kept busy introducing the culinary talent, course-by-course, via live video-feed. Like me — and the chefs who’ve come before them — they were volunteering their efforts because like you, we know a lot of people who fight cancer every day, others who’ve beat it, and some who’ve died from it.
But we also work this event because it’s great fun.
The best part? I get to pick up pieces of juicy gossip, and hear things that crack me up. Like?
Well, like last year, when I told keynote speaker Ruth Reichl I’d recently scored a copy of her first cookbook (the hippie-fied now-out-of-print and eminently collectible “mmmmm: a Feastiary”) for $80 at Seattle’s Book Larder. She laughed, then told me she can still kick herself for not taking her mother’s advice and saving a case of those old paperbacks she’d stored way-back-when — and later jettisoned. “Those would have made me a fortune today!”
This year, I busted a gut when chef Greg Atkinson — standing right next to Daisley Gordon — told me that his Bainbridge Island restaurant is “the real Restaurant Marché” (which is better than busting an ankle, which I did a few years ago, on Mother’s Day, forcing me to work this gig a week later in a boot-cast).
And when Daisley pulled out his phone to show me a video of his unbelievable roast chicken being stuffed and trussed at his Marché in Pike Place Market, I thought, “Man! I should have included that one in my recent roast chicken roundup.” The one where I sang the praises of Jim Drohman’s roast chicken-for-two.
After that story came out, said Jim (who was here offering up hors d’oeuvres with Cafe Juanita’s Holly Smith and RN74’s Phil Lehmann), those chickens were flying. With no walk-in storage at Le Pichet, he said, they had to make some special fridge-runs to Cafe Presse to keep up with the constant call for the birds, hot-sellers at both of his restaurants.
At the Hutch event, I also get the lowdown on restaurants not yet open, like Eric Donnelly’s RockCreek, a sustainable seafood house slated for a July debut, right next door to Scott Staples’ Uneeda Burger, in Fremont. And speaking of fish, and Fremont, I had a chance to tell Rachel Yang (whose cold smoked escolar went over big) how crazy I am for the Chinese-accented monkey bread she’s serving at brunch at Revel. (Seriously, you’ve got to try it.)
I also got to talk face-to-face — for the first time — with great guys like Mike Robertshaw (late of Local 360, now set to cook N’awlins specialties at Mike Lewis’ as-yet-unopened Restaurant Roux, in Fremont). And Hitchcock’s Brendon McGill, who recently won the People’s Choice Best New Chef award from Food & Wine, and had to run over to La Bete to borrow a 10-gallon stockpot for his stinging nettle and oyster soup at the last minute (“I thought the restaurant supply store would be open on Sunday!”).
I also introduced myself to Belgium-born Jelle Vandenbroucke, from ART at the Four Seasons, practicing his name over-and-over for the camera: “Van-den-BROKE-ah, Van-den-BROKE-ah.” “Hey! You’re the chef at ART?” I asked. “What’s up with the fabulous Kerry Sear?” Turns out Kerry’s still hard at it — as the hotel’s director of food and beverage.
Try as I might, I could not get award-winning chef Jason Stratton, the man behind Capitol Hill’s Spinasse and Artusi, to fess up and tell me where he’s planting his new Spanish restaurant and bar, Aragona, set to open near Pike Place Market by early autumn. (Any guesses? The comments box awaits!) But when it does, the lovely Carrie Mashaney will be there, wearing the title chef de cuisine. “Right?” she said, poking Stratton in the ribs.
Premier Chef board members Russell Lowell and Robin Leventhal were on hand as well, making sure things went smoothly — and indeed, they did. (“There’s cold beer in the cooler!” shouted Russell, before heading back to his Bothell barn). After an evening at this event, I always feel lucky to work with such a great team of chefs, restaurateurs and wine folk who are doing what they can to give it up for cancer research. Robin agrees, for a very personal reason:
“On the one hand I am lucky, I have a low-grade form of lymphoma,” she says of the cancer diagnosed years ago. “On the other hand I have a treatable, but not curable form of cancer. This means that every few years I am undergoing some form of ‘maintenance’ to combat its hold on my body. Because of that, I am dedicated to the Hutch for their amazing cutting-edge research to find better treatments, and hopefully, one day a cure for cancer.”