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“I think I ate everything,” we overheard one reveler say with pride at From Sea to Shining Sea: America's Greatest Chefs Salutes Citymeals-on-Wheels tasting gala at Rockefeller Center. And that wasn't an easy task: to go from duck to lobster to dessert to steak to burgers and back to dessertnot to mention all the wine and cocktails in betweenrequires an iron stomach and a serious appetite. Fortunately, New York is full of philanthropic foodies who return year after year for the gala, formerly known as the Tribute to James Beard. This year the event raised $825,000 for the hunger nonprofit.
Headed by Citymeals director of special events Lynn McGuire, this year's theme was a patriotic tribute to American cuisine. Thirty-five chefs and 16 vineyards from across the country were spread around Rockefeller Center's Sea Grill, Rock Center Cafe, Rink Bar and esplanade with gourmet tastings and wines for more than 1,000 guests. Decor elements included tablecloths of red, white and blue for the cocktail tables, and red, white and blue ribbon wrapped around the stair railing. Chef stations were decorated with red, white and blue napkins, and flag-shaped signage denoting the chef, restaurant and its home state was designed by David Rockwell. Large flower arrangements on the esplanade were donated by ZeZe Flowers.
Among the tastings, Lydia Shire of Biba and Locke Ober in Boston had a line of people waiting to try her large servings of JFK's lobster stew and buttermilk ice with grappa presented on large, fish-shaped copper plates. Across the way, Daniel Boulud hustled with his electric carving knife to meet the demand for slices of his famed DB Burger. Alice Waters and her staff from Berkeley's Chez Panisse cooked and filled buckwheat crepes with Meyer lemon and strawberry jam and slid them into pretty white tissue pockets as fast as they could. Guests for Larry Forgione's grilled lobster and foie gras salad watched a pair of gigantic lobsters roast on a spit as they waited in line. And one simple and tasty treat that didn't go unnoticed was a Douglas fir sorbet from Jerry Traunfeld of Herbfarm in Washington.
The event was kept lively with music by Curtis Farrow's Irving Street Rep, which brought along singing group All Four Fun and McDonald's New York Metro Gospel Choir, who sang a medley of popular favorites like “Purple Rain” and “Livin' La Vida Loca.” The group's MC even gave revellers a quick dance lesson before joining them in the audience. We saw pastry chefs Francois Payard and Florian Bellanger shake it on the dance floor before the chefs were called to the stage for the quick remarks by Citymeals founder Gael Greene and avid gala-goer Drew Nieporent.
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