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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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08.15.06

Taste of the Nation

Serve: All Things Sustainable or Charitable


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bin 36

A chef from Bin 36 serves up cheese at the Taste of the Nation Gala-Photo:Tuan Bui

Eat, drink and be a hero was the constant mantra at Monday night’s Share Our Strength’s annual Taste of the Nation gala. Held across the nation in 60 cities, Chicago’s version took place at the stylish River East Art Center. According to Billy Shore, Executive Director of Share Our Strength, the event showcased food and drink from 23 of the city’s top chefs, drawing 500-600 guests and raising $100,000 in the name of ending world hunger. Share Our Strength is a charity that funds food banks and advocacy efforts that help feed hungry children across the nation and the world. It was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1984.

When I walked into the Art Center at 6:00, I was immediately overwhelmed with the crowd of people. The place was packed to the brim by an eclectic mix of folks. The top floor’s glass walled gallery rooms were filled with VIP ticket holders, while the bottom floor was packed with people standing at small tables, milling about with drinks in hand and getting food from the many tasting stations that speckled the crowd. Locating the first stop on my list (Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim of the United States Bartenders Guild’s make-your-own-mojito station), I headed down into the swarm.

tony

The scene I walked into was a laughing crowd wildly beating canvas bags with wooden clubs. Abou-Ganim stood in front of them, egging them on. In that moment of crushing ice with reckless abandon, a patron misjudged the distance of the bag and smashed the club into a stack of glasses waiting to be used by other drinks. Several splintered and fell to the floor, and a cheerful Abou-Ganim teased the woman and stopped the others from smashing ice. When the group finished, they held up their drinks and compared results. Everyone laughed as one particularly poor made drink was held up by none other than Sean Sanders, sous chef from Bin 36. Abou-Ganim waved the group off with his catch phrase of the night: “Enjoy a mojito with all your senses, and this (holding up his drink) is the best sense of all.”

I sat down to make my own mojito as Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, of Hearty Boys fame, and Alpana Singh, host of “Check, Please!”, gathered at the top balcony to issue a welcome. The trio could hardly be heard over the sounds of the happy crowd below.

I marched upstairs, fresh-squeezed mojito in hand, to check out the silent auction spread out across the upper balcony. The auction was anything but silent. I browsed the items any self-respecting gourmand would drool over, amidst calls of “I’m bidding on the chocolate tower. Are you bidding on the grill set?” I was personally excited about the chef coat signed by various celebrity chefs, but with no bids starting below $100, the auction was too rich for my blood.

butter

Watermelon and heirloom tomato salad served by Butter restaurant at Taste of the Nation-Photo:Tuan Bui

I spent the next two hours browsing the food stations on both floors. Some of the standouts included a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad – the new menu item at Butter, kangaroo carpaccio from Avenues, and a room full of chocolate provided by Julius Meinl, the French Pastry School and Sarah’s Pastries and Candies. SushiSamba Rio showcased their shrimp ceviche in a mix-it-yourself station guided by chef Abelardo Cortes.

french pastry

The French Pastry School crew-Photo:Stacy Smith

At 9:00, the silent auction ended and the live action auction began. Several more items were auctioned off, with the highest bid going to a 12-person cruise on the lake for around $3500. The night neared its close at 10:00, and as guests streamed out, not one person left hungry.

If you want to get involved with Save Our Strength or make a donation to alleviating world hunger, visit their website.

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