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Charity Never Tasted So
Great In New York City

Share OUR Strength's "Taste of the Nation" has raised nearly $50 million, of which has supported more than 450 of the most effective organizations working to end hunger and poverty," stated founder and Executive Director of Share OUR Strength, Bill Shore in his welcome letter.

On May 19, 2004 Share OUR Strength hosted its 17th Annual gala charity benefit, "Taste of the Nation: NYC 2004", at the Metropolitan Pavilion, featuring New York City's most celebrated chefs and restaurants in a worldwide fight against hunger. This year's event was co-sponsored by Jenn-Air and American Express.

Over 50 fabulous dishes, delightful wines, spirits, beverages, desserts, and coffees were served up in style to please even the most discriminating gourmand. The gala charity soirée also offered cookbook signings, auctions offering gourmet and luxury items, and exciting celebrity chef cook-off competitions. VIP level ticket holders enjoyed the added privileges of the VIP room and private previews. People carrying Ultimate tickets enjoyed more exclusive perks like the pre-party and after party with the chefs.

A
s I walked into the entrance foyer to pick up a handy event guide, I heard the loud buzz of Manhattan's well-heeled elite mingling in the next room. After a second security check for tickets from the polite and well-suited security, I entered the grand celebration.




Colorful and tasty tuna ceviche from
Whole Foods tempts partygoers.


The immediate aroma of exotic spices and steak welcomed me into the affair. In this large space, the elegant displays and décor complemented the beautiful and perfectly coifed patrons. Delicate, large and flat pink ribbons hung gracefully in arcs from the high ceiling. Dramatic light logos projected on the white walls elegantly highlighted some of the other event sponsors, such as Finlandia Vodka and NBC Channel 4 News.

The sheer size of the space and number of venues to see were overwhelming. Luckily, the event lasted for three hours, giving me plenty of time to peruse all the goodies at this decadent food fest.

An Exclusive Peek at VIP Privileges

First stop, the VIP room. Well-dressed, large security guards at the entrance and delicate sheer curtains partitioned this room from the rest of the party. Less crowded and more spacious, the elegant VIP room was decorated with actual pieces from the silent and live auctions.




A prominent ice sculpture
draws VIPs to the
Petrossian restaurant table.



Upon entering the room, VIPs were given glasses of bubbly at the Perrier Joulet champagne-sponsored greeting station. Giant old art deco movie posters (also on auction) were displayed prominently from the high ceiling. Unique antique seating and several round translucent pink and purple paper Chinese lanterns hung from the ceiling added a fun touch and simple elegance.

An enormous circular ice sculpture carving that read "Petrossian Caviar" held fresh, chilled assorted berries and announced the top-notch restaurant's table. But it was Petrossian's glass of yummy kiwi sauvignon blanc soup served cold that beckoned me. This treat was a sweet, smooth green blend with a pretty black cherry sorbet swirl and an occasional delicate crunch from the tiny black seeds.

Chanterelle, the recent 2004 winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Restaurant, was also present in this exclusive room. They served a terrine of fresh and smoked salmon with a watercress coulis. The delicate salmon was tender and accompanied with a delightful tangy and crispy coulis, which I originally mistook for peeled cucumber. Very tasty!

Instead of lounging on one of the auction lots, a $3,500 Italian gold gilt couch, and sipping Mondavi wine in this peaceful space, I decided to tear myself away from the VIP experience and explore the other attractions.


The front area had sections devoted
to silent auctions signups.


A Gourmand's Paradise

Back in the main room, I made my way past the cookbook signing area, auction display tables, and center bar and onto the seemingly endless creative displays of food.




Fresh asparagus salad with
Spanish almonds & manchego
served from Lever House.
As I walked through the convention-sized room, I noticed how crowded it became after the preview VIP event concluded, and the general admission started. However, people were gracious and excused themselves if they bumped into each other.

I passed fabulous and exotic dish after dish, each representing one of New York City's finest restaurants, willing myself to stop only at the very best restaurants and dishes.

As I strolled the perimeter of the room, the sign for the upscale restaurant, Lever House, caught my eye. To my delight, they served a scrumptious, fresh asparagus salad with Spanish almonds and manchego. One of my favorite dishes there, this delicious crisp asparagus and arugula salad was infused with light garlic zest and subtle hint of vinaigrette.

With the promise of overindulgence in gourmet specialties abound, I made a conscious choice to skip sampling the endless array of fine wines, premium spirits, and cocktails available. This time.




If Johan Svensson of Riingo
offered you fresh sushi,
wouldn't you take it?

My next adventure led me to more of Manhattan's best. As I stared in wonder, up-and-coming chef Johan Svensson himself gave me a boyish smile and offered me some of his exceedingly fresh salmon, tuna, scallop roll from the new and already popular restaurant, Riingo. Just a few feet away, one of the city's finest restaurants, Aquavit, offered an exotic rabbit and smoked salmon with apple celery root purée that looked too pretty to eat.

Marcus Samuelsson, chef of two world-class restaurants, Aquavit and Riingo, was there to sign his award winning cookbook, "Aquavit — And The New Scandinavian Cuisine." At only 33 years old, his experience reads like that of a big time culinary veteran. He also participated in the first of two celebrity chef cook-offs.

Distinct and exciting aromas wafted through the air as the competition got cooking. I watched Marcus Samuelsson's nimble fingers in awe on the large screens as they frantically chopped and skillfully prepared his creative delicacy just a few feet away from me. Somehow it all came together into a beautiful and artistic masterpiece in just minutes. Judging by the crowd's applause, his opponent, newcomer Marc Murphy of the new restaurant Landmarc, won by a pinch — er, dash.

But who are the real winners at this over-the-top soirée? The winners are everyone who supported the event and the cause — from the new and notable restaurants and chefs, to the sponsors, organizers, volunteers, and patrons.




Hudson Valley fois gras torchon,
pickled orange, black pepper
brioche from Tabla restaurant.

And the big winners are the local New York City food charities that will benefit from the critical funds to feed the hungry. Local recipient charities include Acción New York, City Harvest, Community Food Resource Center, Food Bank for New York City, God's Love We Deliver, and Just Food.

A generous gourmet gift bag stuffed with free food samples, discounts, and other goodies was the crowning touch and a nice farewell to this feel good culinary event of the season.

COST: $250 Standard Admission, $375 VIP tickets, and $1,000 Ultimate Fleurtation tickets.

HOW: The Taste of the Nation event is held annually between February and August in most major cities across the country. The official Taste of the Nation New York web site is http://www.newyorktaste.org. For a complete listing of schedules nationwide, to get email updates for next year's event, or to learn about how you can donate to fight hunger, visit http://www.strength.org.

Feature and photos (except opening graphic) by Ivy Liu, New York City Dining and Entertainment Feature Editor.

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