Saturday evening, I found myself surrounded by incredible chefs and delicious food, which I suppose may not sound all the unusual around these parts, but I have to tell you that this particular evening was something really quite extraordinary.
The Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef Gala is a bi-annual event which brings together some of Cleveland’s finest chefs to offer tastings, plus hometown favorite chef Michael Symon is at the helm with one of his star chef friends (this year, the charming Bobby Flay) to create a demo dinner right before guests’ eyes.
But before I get into my favorite dishes from the tastings or the delicious demo dinner, I first have to say how amazing it was to be in a room of all these fantastic chefs who donated of their time, talents, and treasure to be part of this fundraising effort for Autism Speaks.
When Gala chair Jim Sammon and his wife Jennifer took the stage to commemorate Suzanne Wright, the founder of Autism Speaks who recently passed away, or when honorees Michael and Shari Goldberg took the stage to talk about their family’s experiences with autism, or when Chefs John Selick and Brian Doyle share pictures of their autistic children, there was so much love and support in the room that I was truly moved and so grateful for the chance not only to attend but to have served on the committee for this magical evening.
I feel like sometimes the reason for events gets buried behind the food and drink and fun, especially when writing about them. But I wanted to put it front and center here. The work that Autism Speaks is doing to further research and support families dealing with autism spectrum disorders is truly remarkable and I got to see firsthand the deep impact the organization has on so many people in our community.
Now, onto the food and drink and fun…
There were so many great dishes in the tasting portion of the evening, but I definitely want to highlight some favorites. In the meat and seafood “category,” we enjoyed Chef John Selick of University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center’s steak, Chef Brandt Evans of Pura Vida‘s tempura short rib, Chef Tim Bando of Grove Hill‘s grilled octopus salad, and Chef Fabio Salerno of Lago‘s scallop ceviche
In the cheese “category” (which should always be a category), we loved the goat cheese key lime tarts from Chef Dion Tsevedos of Chef Cube, the crisps with cheese and tomatoes from Chef Douglas Katz of fire food and drink, and the crostini with goat cheese and peaches from Chef Karen Small of The Flying Fig.
And in the dessert category, we couldn’t get enough of Chef Dante Boccuzzi of Dante Dining Group‘s double-baked brownie with ice cream and brandied peaches and Chef Brit-Marie Horrocks Culey of Coquette Patisserie‘s corn and roasted pepper savory dessert.
And in the most creative “category,” Chef Jonathon Sawyer of Team Sawyer Restaurants‘ pork crispy is the most interesting play on a Rice Krispie treat I’ve ever tasted (bonus points for the addition of gummy bears as a side).
Then it was on to the demo dinner prepared by Chefs Symon and Flay. We started with a salad with burrata, mixed greens, and a crostini from Chef Symon. Simply dressed and absolutely delicious, this was a great start to the seated meal.
Then Chef Flay prepared swordfish with a simple sauce with red wine vinegar and plums. Swordfish is always one of my favorite fishes, so having it prepared by such a famous chef was truly a treat!
Chef Symon prepared prime rib with rosemary and garlic (and referenced his family’s tradition of having special dinners at Mountain Jacks and how that started his love of prime rib), paired with a simple, fresh Ohio corn and tomato salad.
Both chefs focused on simple, clean flavors that let the quality of both the ingredients and their culinary skill shine through. Plus, the banter between these two friends during the demo dinner made the meal even more enjoyable!
Speaking of simple flavors, our dessert was a creamy, delicious banana pudding.
What a fantastic meal, from the tastings all the way through to the dessert! And having the chance to chat with these chefs about everything from Mabel’s BBQ to birthday twins (Chef Symon is mine!) to chef crushes (Chef Flay is my mom’s!) was pretty phenomenal!
From the compelling stories to the delicious food to the overwhelming sense of hometown pride in our talented group of chefs, this evening will remain in my memory book for quite some time!
***Disclosure: I am a member of the event committee for the Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef Gala. In addition, I received 1 complimentary ticket to the event for promoting the event through the blog and social media channels. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.***