The big event this week is Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Palm Beach. A wine-and-dine-around, with more than 30 chefs participating, this event promises to be the “must-do” dining event of the season.
Chef Zach Bell of Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, the culinary organizer, said top chefs from the area have rallied to the cause. “As a chef, I know it’s hard to nail us down and get a commitment, especially now in less plentiful times, at a new event at the tail-end of a social season chock full of charity events. Some (chefs) were skeptical, but I assured them that this would be the beginnings of a great annual event.”
Sari Vatske, the Florida representative of Share Our Strength, said Palm Beach is getting its own dinner once more. Taste of the Nation dine-arounds were held in the ’90s, then combined with Broward County for several years, and now return. “We’ve been doing this for 26 years in over 40 cities nationwide. The Taste of the Nation came back to Palm Beach County because we finally had field staff on the ground.”
It was difficult to run a large dinner such as this from the national Washington, DC headquarters, she said. An earlier attempt a few years ago to bring it back didn’t succeed as hoped; chefs here find it difficult to participate in charity dinners during season.
A bigger venue needed
The event will be held in the Cohen Pavilion at the Kravis Center, and more than 600 people are expected to attend. “We’re already sold out of VIP tickets,” she said.
The list of restaurants participating includes: 32 East, 3800 Ocean, 51 Supper Club & Lounge, Atlantic Ocean Club, BB Kings Blues Bar, Buddha Sky Bar, Cabo Flats Cantina & Tequila Bar, Cafe Boulud, Cafe Chardonnay, Casa D’Angelo, Chops Lobster Bar, City Cellar Win Bar & Grill, City Fish Market, Dada, Echo at The Breakers, Gazebo Cafe, Guanabanas, Hollywood Cupcake, I Heart Olive Oil, Ironwood Grille at PGA, Jupiter Island Grill, Kubo Asiatic Cuisine, The Leopard Lounge, Michelle Bernstein at The Omphoy, Oceanside Market, Sundy House, Talay Thai Cuisine, The Restaurant at the Four Seasons, The Sugar Monkey, The Wave Kitchen & Bar, and Whole Foods Market.
Wines and spirits also were donated, and a number of items have been given from local businesses for the silent auction as well.
Part of the VIP event is a “mystery throwdown chef’s competition” between Bell and Chef Dean Max of 3800 Ocean.
Child hunger relief benefits
The event benefits the No Kid Hungry campaign in Florida. Using their collective efforts, SOS helps Florida receive money not only from the event, but they’re able to obtain matching grant money as well to be applied to programs such as the Boys and Girls Club “Rise and Shine” breakfast program, and to help provide free or reduced-cost lunches for schoolkids around the state.
“We can help raise awareness to the cause,” Vatske said. “All foods and auction items are donated. I’m the only paid staff member – the rest are all volunteers.” Even the leftover foods from the event are not wasted – through the United Way, refrigerated trucks are sent to pick up useable leftovers and deliver them to local food kitchens and food banks, she said.
Back to Palm Beach County
In the early ’90s, Steve Gerson, a restaurateur in Boca Raton and Jupiter at the time, hosted early SOS Taste of the Nation dine-arounds in Palm Beach County at Conrad’s of Boca, and then at Three Palms in Jupiter. Frank Eucalitto, chef/owner of Cafe Chardonnay in Palm Beach Gardens, and Bob Artley, food and beverage manager of The Breakers at the time, also were instrumental in working with the program.
Taste of the Nation moved around to several locations, including PGA National Resort and The Breakers, and raised awareness and thousands of dollars for local food banks and hunger relief programs before its run ended in the late ’90s when volunteers moved on. Some local chefs continued their participation by joining with Broward County’s Taste of the Nation dinner (it’s June 2 this year).
Chef Bell takes up mantle
Chef Bell was instrumental in bringing back the larger event to Palm Beach County. Through Cafe Boulud, he began hosting the touring dinner, “A Tasteful Pursuit,” a pricey dinner party featuring six chefs for a six-course meal. “We quickly became one of the highest fundraising stops on the tour, and each year, brought in a different group of visiting chefs,” he said.
In 2009, Bell, a four-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef, Southeast, was awarded a National Leadership Award from Share Our Strength for his involvement, and was one of a small team of chefs who went to Capitol Hill to lobby for the renewal of the Childhood Reauthorization Bill.
The irony of hosting a $80-a-plate dine-around isn’t lost on him as a Palm Beach chef. “After cooking all season for those that have the means to eat out every day of the year, it is important to remember that less than a mile away are many, many children that are not even able to consistently receive even a full meal a day!”
Tickets to the event are $80 in advance; $100 at the door; a 10 percent discount is available online and only in advance by using the code PBREST at *checkout only on the web site (no discounts are accepted at the door).
Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Palm Beach
- When: 6-9 p.m., Weds., April 13
- Where: Kravis Center’s Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
- Tickets: $80 in advance online, $100 at door. (VIP tickets are sold out)
- Information and to buy tickets online*: www.strengthflorida.org/TOTNPB.html