The James Beard Foundation hosted their annual gala last Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 with a small army of amazing chefs in attendance and a menu that foodies only dream of.  The theme of the night, “Now That’s Italian”, highlighted the contributions of some of the top chefs in today’s Italian culinary arena:  the ubiquitous Mario Batali (NY), Nancy Silverton (LA), Marc Vetri (Philadelphia), Michael White (NY), and Matt Molina (LA).  Each of the James Beard award-winning chefs helped prepare the sumptuous meal that showcased the richness and rustic charm of Italian cuisine.

The dinner and auction kicked off a celebration season for James Beard Foundation’s upcoming 25th anniversary, and as if the multi-course dinner with wine pairings wasn’t extensive enough, the reception was a culinary triumph in and of itself.  Featuring favorites like Sicilian pizza from Artichoke Basille’s, truffled autumn squash tartlets from Nick and Toni’s, and quail egg ravioli from A Voce, there was no shortage of hors d’oeuvres to go around as guests wandered through the simulated Italian marketplace created inside Guastavino’s event space on the Upper East Side.

Waiters passed trays of champagne as attendees mulled over hundreds of auction items ranging from deluxe cookware sets to cases of wine, plus once in a lifetime experiences like behinds the scenes test cooking at Bon Appetit Magazine and dinner prepared in your home by famous chefs.

It was especially interesting to see people learning about their nibbles as they ate, as was the case at the Forever Cheese station and the Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto table.  The display was a feast for the eyes, and representatives were on-hand to discuss the varieties of meats and cheeses being sampled that evening.

Taking a moment to talk with their guests before dinner began, the chefs mingled and discussed their excitement about being a part of this year’s gala.  Chef Missy Robbins of A Voce runs two restaurant locations in Manhattan and is always honored to be a part of James Beard Foundation events.  During college, she decided to pursue her love of cooking by working for one of the America’s greatest chefs, Charlie Trotter.  She literally got her start because of a passionate letter that she wrote to the famed chef, asking to be a part of his team and learn from the best.  Two weeks later the phone rang and it was Charlie Trotter himself asking her to move to Chicago, and the rest was history.  Now just a handful of years later, Missy has gained national notoriety by being named a Best New Chef of 2010 by Food & Wine Magazine.

Another notable NY chef who juggles two restaurant locations is Joe Realmuto of Nick & Toni’s on the Upper West Side and East Hampton.  Though he loves coming into Manhattan to get his city fix, his first love is out on Long Island with all of the loyal Hamptonites who have been coming to his restaurant for years.  Even in the “down season” there is much to do in the kitchen to keep locals happy and maintain the fresh flavors that foodies have come to expect from his menu.  Both Chefs Robbins and Realmuto agree that having a strong team working for them makes it possible to balance multiple restaurants every day.

As attendees made their way upstairs for the lavish spread and live auction, special guests arrived including Adam Rapoport (Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appetit), Gail Simmons (Top Chef), and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps (Real Housewives of New York).   The fall gala is the foundation’s most important fundraiser of the year and helps support their leadership scholarships, food-related art exhibits, and food conference focused on sustainability to name just a few.

The James Beard Foundation was established in 1986 to honor the late food teacher who is widely considered the father of American gastronomy.  The Foundation is dedicated to nurturing and preserving America’s diverse culinary heritage and future.

Cheers,

JetSetleslie

Additional images by Ken Goodman, Mark Von Holden, and Mira Zaki from jamesbeard.org