The James Beard Foundation’s annual “Chefs & Champagne” fundraiser was recently held in Sagaponack, New York, at the idyllic Wölffer Estate Vineyard. The event featured a food and wine tasting complete with an endless supply of Taittinger Champagne, wines from Wölffer Estate Vineyard, and Stella Artois Belgian lager paired with the cuisine of some of the best Chefs on the east coast. This year’s Honoree was James Beard Award–winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and celebrity TV personality, Bobby Flay. Accompanied by his wife, actress Stephanie March (who portrayed ADA Alexandra Cabot on the TV series Law & Order SVU), the smartly dressed Flay mixed and mingled with revelers throughout the evening.
Flay’s culinary career began as a 17-year-old cook at Joe Allen’s in NYC and since debuting on Food Network in 1994 he has continuously hosted programs that educate viewers about American fare. Beginning with the 1996 premiere of his first show, Grillin’ & Chillin’, Flay’s two decades of TV experience include a variety of Food Network and Cooking Channel programs such as Iron Chef America and his newest show, Beat Bobby Flay. In addition to his latest TV show, Flay’s sixth fine dining restaurant, Gato, opened earlier this year in New York City’s NoHo district. As this year’s honoree, Flay joins the ranks of such gastronomic greats as Julia Child, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse.
At the tasting, an array of culinary delights beckoned from each station created by a select group of approximately 35 Chefs, many from JBF Award–winning restaurants. Each dish was better than the next and some of our favorites included Tuna Crudo with Kizami Wasabi, Olives and Basil from Chef Chris Jaeckle of all’onda, NYC; Mushroom and Goat Cheese-stuffed Zucchini Flower with Romesco Sauce from Chef John Mooney of Bell, Book and Candle, NYC and Bidwell in Washington, DC; Achiote-Marinated Carolina Shrimp with Guacamole from Chef Marc Meyers of Cookshop, Five Points, and Hundred Acres in NYC; Za’atar Grilled Lamb Chops with Tabbouleh and Greek Yogurt from Chef Steve Van Der Merwe of Celebrity Cruises; and Florida’s own Chef Lindsay Autry and her delicious Deviled Crab with Summer Vegetable Slaw, Melba Toast and Hot Sauce.
In addition to savory dishes, decadent sweets were also on hand including Passion Fruit Mousse with Blueberries and Crispy Meringue (above, right) from Pastry Chef Deborah Racicot from Narcissa, NYC and Tristar Strawberry-Valrhona Dulcey Blond Chocolate Tarts with Marshmallow and Lemon Verbena (above, left) from Pastry Chef Stephen Collucci from Collicchio & Sons, NYC.
During her remarks, James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro, applauded Flay for his commitment to the organization, calling him a “Superman” and acknowledged the large crowd of attendees and participating Chefs at the evening’s sold out event as a “testament to your talent.” Flay went on to toast Julia Child, commending her for the idea she had to preserve James Beard’s house after his passing almost thirty years ago, transforming it into a place where American Chefs are celebrated. He also added a heartfelt thanks “to my brothers and sisters who are serving the most incredible food tonight. Everybody who’s in an apron, the Chefs, the Sous Chefs, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it.” (to view a video of Flay’s full remarks, please click here).
Funds raised at the event help support the foundation’s wide variety of initiatives, including culinary student scholarships and the organization’s annual food conference on sustainability, public health, and nutrition. The recipient of the 2014 Christian Wölffer Scholarship which supports students of food and wine was also announced and went to Samantha Whitlam who will be using the scholarship to attend the Intensive Sommelier Course at the International Culinary Center (ICC). As of 2013, the James Beard Foundation has awarded more than $4.6 million in financial aid to 1,570 recipients throughout the country.
For good reason, the James Beard Foundation’s annual “Chefs & Champagne” event is widely considered the East End’s premier Summertime culinary event – I’m already looking forward to next year! For more information on the event or the James Beard Foundation please click here.