CHICAGO On July 22, Vital Bridges' “Chefs and the City” fund-raiser drew some 600 guests to the Peninsula Chicago. Last year's event—which offered the same format of a walk-around chef's tasting with cocktail stations and an informal fashion show—saw closer to 300 attendees.
“I think the increased popularity has to do with a few things,” said Chuck Benya, the nonprofit's chief business development officer. “For one thing, we have a great host committee” staffed with editors, well-known philanthropists, PR reps, and “other people who have a lot of pull within the food community.” With the help of the volunteer hosts, this year's event offered tasting stations from 31 local chefs. Last year, only 21 participated.
Having the additional culinary pros on board “helped sell more tickets,” Benya said. “As we signed on more and more of the high-echelon chefs, the buzz started building, and we had to stop selling tickets about four days before the event.”
With the enhanced chef roster came, naturally, more food. “The variety this year was fantastic,” Benya said. “We had more vegetarian and seafood dishes, and the creativity was just amazing.” Offerings included braised octopus with green tomatoes, watermelon, and fried okra from Blackbird; spicy coconut soup from Arun's; and lobster B.L.T.s from RL. “And there was no skimping with portions,” Benya added.
Letting reps from various restaurants work side-by-side creates a spirit of “friendly competition,” Benya said. “The chefs always do something with their dish that really makes it pop, and makes it special and memorable.”