Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cleveland or Bust! By Renee Morgan, 2011 Stephan Pyles Scholarship Winner

Cleveland ... or bust! By Renee Morgan, 2011 Stephan Pyles Scholarship Winner

What a great time we had in Cleveland!  Wait...Cleveland, you say?  What’s in Cleveland?  How about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Or the Cleveland Browns?  Or the Indians for that matter?  Or the USS Cod Submarine Memorial?

One of the many perks of winning the 2011 Stephan Pyles Cook-Off Scholarship is the opportunity to travel with Chef Pyles to one of the many events he does throughout the year, and boy did I use the time to pick his brain, as well as that of his Executive Chef, Joel Harrington.  I was so honored to accompany Chef Stephan Pyles and some of his staff to Cleveland June 24-25 for the annual 5 Star Sensation, a charity event extraordinaire whose honorary chairperson is none other than Chef Wolfgang Puck!  The idea of the event is to bring top chefs and vintners to Cleveland for a magical night of culinary extravagance to raise money for the cancer hospital.  In addition to the opportunity to meet and do tastings with some of the nations top chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck, Francois Paynard, Lydia Shire, Paul Prudhomme, Michael Symon, one of my favorite vintners, Dr. Ernest Loosen and of course, the great Stephan Pyles, I was so pleased to be even a small part of working to benefit this charity, having lost my own dear mother to brain cancer some years ago.

Let me set the scene for you...we arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and were immediately whisked away to the gorgeous Carr estate for a reception and dinner honoring the chefs and vintners who are there to give so generously of their time, talents and resources.  We were treated to a lavish cocktail reception, followed by dinner, a live band to serenading us and an extensive fireworks show.  Apparently, Mr. Carr loves fireworks and put on the show himself, with a little help from the Cleveland fire department.  This was the first moment I realized just what a great trip this was going to be.  Chef Puck addressed the audience and announced that year’s event raised close to 2 million dollars so far to assist the cancer center, which is one of the best in the country.  He also announced that in an effort to make hospital food choices better, he is partnering with the Cleveland hospital to open the first Wolfgang Puck Bistro and the grand opening/ribbon cutting would be held the next day! How cool is that?

The big event is the next evening and I still had no idea what to expect.  Preparations have all been done at the Cleveland Browns Stadium, who have generously donated the use of the stadium kitchens for the visiting chefs.  The event was held on the grounds of a local college and I am told by the event organizer that local foodies and Cleveland society look forward to the 5 Star Sensation all year.  The event spans the space of 3 huge tents, all decorated in cheerful orange and hot pink satins, and features a band, dance floor, silent auction, as well as, dining tables that organizations have paid thousands to sit at.  Each chef and vintner, has their own booth with glassware, china, silver, cooking equipment and so on.  Chefs, cooks and staff are working furiously to get set up and get food ready to serve. All have brought their best. Chef Joel tells me we are to serve up to 2000 that evening!  As the event begins, swarms of people arrive, dressed, as they say, to the nines!  Service has begun!  We are serving an almond gazpacho, with vanilla roasted fennel, lobster ceviche and Champagne grapes, and Texas goat cheese and short-rib tamale with oxtail and Texas peach and arugula salad.  It is amazing and people are coming back time and again for more!  About halfway through service, Chef Joel graciously suggested I take a “walkabout” to see what everyone was doing.  An awesome opportunity!  I talked with many of the chefs, tasted their food, listened to good advice and received invitations from several chefs to contact them when I’m done with school!  Never one to miss out, I took pictures with each of them...I plan to send them a copy of the picture with my resume!

That night, there was an after-party at the famous Lola Bistro and Wine Bar. I’d read about Lola in The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, so it was exciting to experience it live!  The next day, it was all over and time to leave but I carry the sights, smells and experience with me always.  Many thanks and a debt of gratitude to the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas, Jennifer Grathwohl, Chef Stephan Pyles, Chef Joel Harrington and Lisa Moore for their tireless efforts and for making this priceless experience possible for me.

P.S. - I’ll be on externship at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston for the next three months.  Be sure to watch for more updates and pictures!

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