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Published: 5/11/2004

Taste of the nation: Celebrity chefs bring unique flavors to annual event

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Claud Mann Claud Mann
HO Enlarge

Celebrity chefs from California, Seattle, and Minneapolis are coming to town for Sunday's ninth annual Taste of the Nation. Along with staff members from more than 29 local restaurants and caterers, they'll be cooking amazing foods to raise money for relief programs.

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation Toledo will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday at Gumbo's Bayou Grille on the Docks. The sold-out event gets bigger and better each year thanks to event organizers, the restaurant community, and the support of community vendors and individuals.

With local restaurateurs and chefs presenting their best culinary creations, Claud Mann of Dinner & A Movie on TBS, Seth Bixby Daugherty of Cosmos at Le Meridien Hotel in Minneapolis, and Christine Keff of Fandango/Flying Fish restaurants in Seattle will share some of their favorite foods.

The guest chefs are cooking recipes that they contributed to Cooking from the Heart, A Share Our Strength Book to Fight Hunger, by Michael J. Rosen (Broadway Books, $29.95). Mr. Rosen, who resides in central Ohio, will also participate in the event by signing cookbooks.

The recipe and the story that Mr. Mann contributed to Cooking from the Heart is Posole de Perlita which is a Mexican recipe not tied to a movie, but one that is made every Christmas Eve by the family of his wife, Perla. Posole is a thick hearty soup made of pork, hominy, onion, garlic, and dried chiles. It is a main course.

"There are two schools of posole," he says. "Perla insists on the purity of a white broth, while I'm of the red school, so I make a red-chile puree and leave it on the side as a condiment."

Give Mr. Mann the name of a movie and he will come up with a complementary recipe. Mr. Mann, who visited Toledo for Taste of the Town in 1999, has been the chef-host of Dinner & a Movie for nine years. His creative approach to pairing recipes - and naming them - with movies has spawned three editions of Dinner & a Movie Cookbook.

"I never thought anyone would learn a recipe instead of a fact or ingredient," he said in a phone interview. "I do stress using the highest quality ingredients, those that are naturally or organically raised."

He is interested in sustainable agriculture, organic foods, and fair-trade practices. He is also involved with Food for Thought in Ojai, Calif., his hometown. It is an integrated program that includes nutrition education, gardening, and farm visits designed to improve students' understanding of the importance of farm fresh produce. Such programs also help local farmers by providing them with a reliable market for their crops. The couple has a 10-year-old daughter.

This is the second time Mr. Daugherty has participated in Taste of the Nation Toledo. He was here in 2002 when he was chef at D'Amico Cucina in Minneapolis. In 2003, as executive chef, he helped open Cosmos at Le Meridien Hotel.

He describes the food at Cosmos as "global cuisine with no limitation." From the wall of mirrors and the tables covered with Philippine wood, this restaurant is "cutting edge design."

The food has freshness of ingredients "through a twist in design of the [food presentation] architecturally."

For example, terrine of golden beets and goat cheese with wilted basil has perfect linear lines with shallot and truffle oil. "It is a cool terrine with warm basil."

For Taste of the Nation, he will prepare two recipes, Seared Sea Scallops with Ragu of Morel Mushrooms and Micro Watercress from Chef's Garden, which reflects the style of Cosmos, and Mulberry Crunch, which is a recipe in Cooking from the Heart.

The latter recipe and story are tied to how he met his wife, Karen, on a peace march in Washington. "All things good in my life come from cooking," he said in a phone interview. The couple have a daughter, 8, and a son, 5.

His cooking style is very adaptable. For one occasion, "I might be doing complete Thai cooking. I'm involved with desserts. You have to adapt and be able to do whatever people want," he says.

This will be Christine Keff's first visit to Toledo. The chef/owner of Flying Fish, which has an Asian menu, and Fandango, which specializes in Latin American dishes, was recognized by the Beard Foundation as the Best Chef in the Northwest/Hawaii in 1999.

The recipe she will prepare at Taste of the Nation will be Thai Squid Salad, which uses fresh squid. "Buying fresh is worth the effort," she said in a phone interview. "The longer squid is frozen, the tougher it gets." Fresh squid is tender. (In the Toledo area, fresh squid can be special ordered through Rohr's Seafood.)

Ms. Keff describes her cooking style as "informal with an emphasis on big flavors. I'm not a subtle cook. I draw a lot from ethnic cuisines. I like to see how food fits in cultures." She has traveled around the world, especially in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, which are key inspirations in her cuisine.

Very important to her restaurants is the relationship with a farmer, which allows for sustainable cuisine. "We have subsidized a farm that grows our produce," she says. "Our goal is exploring where our food comes from. Consumers are interested in where their food comes from."

For continuity of supply, the farm staggers planting. "This depends on cooks thinking outside the box - we are so used to calling a purveyor and ordering anything," says Ms. Keff. "We have to get our produce needs from our farmer or we lose money."

As yet, the restaurants have not preserved any of their produce for use in the next season. "It's been a learning curve for our restaurant and farmer," she says.

"In Seattle, lots of chefs are working closely with farmers. It's an undertaking that takes a lot of money," she says, noting that the area also has terrific farmers' markets to draw from.

For local restaurateurs, Taste of the Nation is a fun night. "We feed 800 to 900 people," says Gus Mancy, one of the chairmen of the event and managing partner at Mancy's Steaks. "It's the support of the local restaurants that make this a great event," he says. "Toledo is unique. We're considered a small-market event that raises as much money as large-market events. So much of the evening is donated by restaurateurs and support staff or services are provided at minimal cost," he says.

"Local restaurateurs are calling and want to be involved," Mr. Mancy says. He estimates that a staff of 125 will prepare food for those in attendance. "That's how a small city can reach out and raise more than $100,000 in one night. Food is donated. Essential operations are donated. Many local businesses contribute to the success of the event."

Among the foods expected at the grazing style event are: grouper with roasted tomato cream sauce, roasted pork loin with raspberry reduction, sushi, assorted cheesecakes and tortes, hickory smoked beef brisket on Texas toast, marinated baby lamb chops and assorted Lebanese appetizers, Maryland lump crab cakes, shrimp and scallop risotto, and wok-seared Kona ahi tuna.

Participating in this year's event include Buki, Kendall's Gourmet Cheesecake & Chocolate Co., Barry Bagel's/Beaner's, Rockwell's, Sofo Trattoria, Premier Catering, Rose & Thistle, Gianno's Italian Bistro, Smedlap's Smithy, and Adam's Place.

Also Manhattan's, Yoko, shorty's bar-b-que, Mancy's Steaks, Mancy's Italian, Beirut/Byblos, Poco Piatti, Georgio's, Fifi's, Avenue Bistro, Gladiuex Catering, Gumbo's, Nick & Jimmy's, Real Seafood, Rohr's Seafood/Erie Street Market, Navy Bistro/Tango's, Handel's Ice Cream, Taste of Texas/Erie Street Market, and Juan Nanez.

Grant recipients include Aurora House, Mobile Meals of Toledo, Toledo Day Nursery, Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, and Toledo Grows.



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