By Jenny Berg Posted February 1, 2010, 3:04 PM EST
CHICAGO On Friday night, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation hosted its Grand Chefs Gala at the Fairmont Chicago. With a two-hour cocktail reception that offered tasting stations from more than 30 local restaurants, a presentation of the Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, and two local chefs—Curtis Duffy of Avenues at the Peninsula and Sarah Levy of Sarah's Pastries & Candies—sharing M.C. duties, the black-tie affair had an overt focus on food. “I feel like I'm on an episode of Top Chef,” one guest remarked.
“Chefs are one of the main backbones of this event,” said Amy Patterson, the foundation's associate executive director. “People come because of the amazing food. The economy is unstable, and there are many other charities approaching chefs and asking them to do foodie events. But this gala is a key part of our fund-raising here in Chicago, and we knew we couldn't let it walk away.”
As such, Patterson said she and her team focused on cementing the relationship between the foundation and the culinary pros. This year, they invited chefs to join the planning committee. The charity also reestablished its Chef's Social event, which took place before the gala. Held at the Dana Hotel's Aja restaurant, the cocktail party invited chefs, gala sponsors, and members of the planning committee to cast their ballots for the Jean Banchet awards; guests also got to sample dishes from Aja chef and award nominee Joshua Linton. “It was important for us to show our appreciation,” Patterson said. “The chefs don't have to to this, and their participation really helps us keep the [gala's] costs down.”
In keeping with this year's “Green for Life” theme, the committee also focused on making the event as environmentally friendly as possible. “The staff here definitely became more aware of the kinds of materials, and how much paper, we're using,” Patterson said. “Going green wasn't as difficult as we thought it would be, but we definitely incorporated some new twists.” Eco-friendy adjustments included trading an e-blast for a mailed save-the-date card, and invites were made with recycled paper and soy-based ink. Nestlé Waters, one of the evening's sponsors, provided glass containers of still and sparkling water during the cocktail reception, and all empty bottles were recycled after the event.