By Jenny Berg Posted March 3, 2010, 1:34 PM EST
CHICAGO Monday night's World Festival, a fund-raiser for chef Art Smith's Common Threads charity, drew 900 guests, raised $1.2 million, and offered tasting stations from 70 chefs. Almost as plentiful were the ingredients in each sample-size dish. “We're a wordy bunch,” warned a staffer from Graham Elliott as he rattled off a description of the restaurant's offering, which contained everything from pumpernickel crumbs to sauerkraut panna cotta and bits of green apple.
Now in its fifth year, the event has quickly become known as a celebrity chef fest, with the likes of Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless and television personality Nigella Lawson manning tasting stations. As the buzz surrounding the event has built, so has its audience, and this year's happening saw around 250 more guests than its previous iteration. To accommodate the larger crowd, planners moved the event from the Museum of Contemporary Art to Soldier Field.
According to Common Threads executive director Linda Novick O'Keefe, this year's event had extra allure because it doubled as a 50th birthday celebration for Smith, a Top Chef Masters alum who formerly worked as Oprah Winfrey's personal chef. “In the past, we've entertained 650 guests, but because of Art's milestone celebration, we're expecting more guests than ever,” she said.
In honor of the chef's special day, a V.I.P. area dubbed “Art's Birthday Lounge” housed tasting stations devoted to birthday cake and Southern cuisine that nodded to Smith's Florida upbringing. Another cake—and M&Ms printed with mini portraits of the chef—appeared at an after-party at the James Hotel, where Smith hit the dance floor during live acoustic sets from singers Sara Wasserman and Jakob Dylan.