By Walter Nicholls Posted February 5, 2009, 5:13 PM EST
WASHINGTON, D.C. For its fourth annual “Turn Up the Heat” benefit on Tuesday night, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance once again turned to women chefs of the Washington area to donate both time and food. More than 300 guests—who paid $250 per ticket—sampled hors d’oeuvres, main dishes, and desserts, prepared by more than 50 chefs whose stations circled the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton. Each year, with a bounty of cuisine but minimal decor, the number of guests and cooks has increased.
Chef Ris Lacoste recruits the volunteers and supervises the menu. “I call restaurants and say ‘Send me your girls,’” said Lacoste, who added that some organizations now offer restaurants a stipend to help defer food costs and encourage the participation of smaller restaurants. In a recession year, or any year, the demand for restaurant donations is high. Some chefs receive, on average, an email a day with requests from groups big and small. The alliance easily recruits chefs, Lacoste says, because members of the association Women Chefs & Restaurateurs of Washington strongly support the alliance's work for medical research.
Liz White, the alliance’s new hire and first in-house event coordinator, created a database for the organization's major yearly fund-raisers here and in Los Angeles, which, she said, gives her closer control of all details. “We can see whose hands are on what,” said White.
At 6:30 p.m., nine chefs and assistants served hors d’oeuvres such as poached quail eggs with a dot of caviar from stations in the hotel’s salon lobby. Later, 25 main course and dessert stations opened in the ballroom, with seating for 10 or 12 guests at each of 33 rounds. White and her team placed a menu and program on each plate and a recyclable shopping bag (donated by Whole Foods Market) and a 2009 calendar (from Women Chefs & Restaurateurs of Washington) on each seat. Before the speaker portion of the evening, guests formed long lines for samples of braised short ribs in red wine, pad Thai, and red velvet cupcakes.
Johnson & Johnson and BNA are this year's corporate sponsors.