Chef Michael Anthony, left, and line cook Paul Wetzel of Gramercy Tavern in New York grill kielbasa at the Taste of the Nation event at the Toledo Club.
The key lime pie melted in the heat and could not be served.
But otherwise, the 16th annual Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Toledo event Sunday under a hot tent at the Toledo Club was a culinary and financial success. About 1,000 people came to the event to sample the food of nearly 40 regional restaurants and two nationally renowned chefs. In the process, they raised more than $100,000 to help fight childhood hunger, co-chairman Terri Thompson said.
The participating restaurants got to raise money for a good cause while showing off some of the best food they make.
“It’s kind of a win-win. It’s for charity and a little marketing,” said Michael Bulkowski, chef and owner of Revolver in Findlay.
Chef Bulkowski was serving up portions of pork cheek ravioli with pickled ramps, brown butter, and compressed rhubarb, the same dish he made for visiting chefs at an event his restaurant hosted last month. His table was one of the event’s first to give away all of its food.
The ramps that he served are a highly flavored, seasonal relative of the onion, similar to a leek. Though they came to be known in culinary circles only relatively recently, they were featured at no fewer than three of the tables. At Mancy’s Bluewater Grille, they were part of a dish of grilled opaka paka (a Hawaiian fish) served with fiddlehead ferns and a lemon thyme and black garlic vinaigrette.
Chef Rob Campbell said, “I like to try to do something fresh. I want to use what’s good right now. I decided what my dish was [going to be on] Wednesday night at 11 p.m.”
Kielbasa and ramp skewer by Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern in New York.
The restaurant has earned its reputation in part by buying its meat and produce from local farmers who use the best methods for raising their animals. The kielbasa, for instance, is made in-house from pork and beef, and the beef comes from cows that have been raised on grass and finished on grain, Chef Anthony said.
And he wasn’t worried about bringing kielbasa to one of the kielbasa capitals of the country. He said it was fine for people to take a bite and say, “That isn’t how my mother made it.”
The kielbasa and ramps were served on skewers, which was another trend for the evening. Mancy’s Italian Grill offered mini-Caprese salads on a skewer, while Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt was serving ice cream on a stick — chocolate-covered balls of black raspberry or vanilla ice cream.
Which, on a sweltering day, was more popular? The black raspberry. By far.
Celina Tio, recognizable to food-television aficionados for her appearances on the shows The Next Iron Chef and Top Chef Masters, was serving a brightly colored, highly flavored carrot soup with pickled shrimp. The dish was a variation on one she created for an episode of Top Chef Masters in which the contestants had to make an entree for just $1 per serving.
Owner of The Beirut and other restaurants, Mr. Hajjar has been part of the event since its inception, along with such restaurateurs as George Kamilaris of Georgio’s Café International and Gus Mancy of the Mancy’s Restaurant Group. Mr. Hajjar returns every year to help the cause. This year’s local grant recipients were The Aurora Project, Toledo Day Nursery, Toledo GROWS, and The Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank.
“We’re trying to help fight hunger. I don’t know if we’re going to end it, but we’ll fight it,” he said.
The event also allowed the chefs to show their creative side. Chef Michael Rosendaul of The Toledo Club made what he called “gazpacho on toast,” a round of garlic toast piled with cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, cilantro, sour cream, and a drizzle of tomato coulis. Avenue Bistro dished up its signature lobster bisque but also pan-seared some scallops and served them with an edible orchid. Justin Thomas of Vino 100 spent 10 hours on Saturday putting together a tuna tartare and chopped avocado on a crust of melted Parmesan, topped with black and white sesame seeds.
Moussa Salloukh, co-owner of The Hungry I and La Scola Italian Grill, and a co-chairman of the event, said, “40 wonderful restaurants are here. It’s a foodie paradise. It’s like one-stop shopping.”
Attendee Kevin Pirozek agreed. “This is the one event where all the great restaurants in Toledo are,” he said. “You get to sample all of them. The best part is, it’s for charity.”