Posh nosh to squash hunger at Toledo’s Taste of Nation

Event cooks up a generous bounty for charity

4/22/2013
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chef Dave Harrison, from  Poco Piatti, cooks scallops  during Taste of the Nation Toledo at the Toledo Club. Forty area businesses and three celebrity chefs cooked up a storm at Sunday’s event.
Chef Dave Harrison, from Poco Piatti, cooks scallops during Taste of the Nation Toledo at the Toledo Club. Forty area businesses and three celebrity chefs cooked up a storm at Sunday’s event.

If you think about it, Share Our Strength’s annual Taste of the Nation Toledo event isn’t that much different from a county fair.

Except that many of the attendees arrive in limos and luxury sport utility vehicles. And they pay $150 a ticket. And they walk through through the posh Toledo Club to reach the main tent, not a muddy field where farm animals had been frolicking.

The dress is casual at both venues, except that most people wear their everyday tailored suits and designer dresses at Taste of the Nation instead of their everyday jeans and T-shirts. There are exceptions, of course: For as many people as you’ll find wearing bib overalls at a county fair, you’ll find a similar number wearing tuxedos at Taste of the Nation.

Taste of the Nation is held in April instead of August. Like a county fair, it has a beer tent. It has a band. It has a raffle. It sells souvenir sweatshirts. T-shirts and mystery bottles of wine are combined into $20 gift packages, not quite the same as bulk orders of hogshead cheese or mini John Deere tractor replicas for your desk. But you get the idea.

Wine is where Taste of the Nation definitely separates itself from county fairs.

“We’re not pouring the house wines here,” co-chairman Gus Mancy said as Sunday night's 18th annual event got under way. “We’re pouring the $30 to $50 bottles.”

Food is another way that Taste of the Nation Toledo stands apart from county fairs. There are no corn dogs and funnel cakes. There was, however, a tempting item that looked like shrimp on a waffle chip at this year’s event. It had this fancy title too: Shrimp and Meyer Lemon On a Crispy Gaufrette With Arugula and Grilled Ramps.

You know, shrimp on a waffle chip.

The point wasn’t how much people stuffed themselves on Seared Diver Scallops with Beluga Lentils Stewed With Dandelion Green Broth. Or what they thought of the Ravioli Si Aragosta, defined as lobster-stuffed ravioli in a sherry lemon cream sauce with concasse tomatoes, asparagus, and fresh herbs. Or, if it was one of those days in which they couldn't deny their cravings for another dish with lobster in it, such as the grilled baby lamb chops with lobster risotto.

Alexis Brown, left, and Vickie Sizemore enjoy delicacies at the Two Seasoned Chicks booth. Billy Shore of Share Our Strength says Toledo has one of the Top 5 most successful events in the U.S.
Alexis Brown, left, and Vickie Sizemore enjoy delicacies at the Two Seasoned Chicks booth. Billy Shore of Share Our Strength says Toledo has one of the Top 5 most successful events in the U.S.

No, the real purpose is raising money for those who battle childhood hunger.

However swanky Taste of the Nation Toledo might seem to outsiders, it has been cranking out some impressive numbers in that regard.

This year’s rendition will net at least $160,000. That’ll bring the grand total raised throughout the local event’s history to $1.6 million, Terri Thompson, one of the other co-chairmen, said.

This year’s four recipients — Aurora Project, Northwest Ohio Food Bank, Toledo Day Nursery, and Toledo GROWS — are guaranteed to divvy up at least $68,700. The total is likely to be much more after the bills are paid. Those are defrayed substantially by donated food, supplies, labor, and other potential drains on the budget.

One of the reasons the groups are guaranteed to split at least $68,700 this year is that Marla Schecht, another co-chairman, likes to veer from the game plan.

The cutoff for ticket sales was set at 400. The event has become so popular the demand was strong for more tickets to be sold. Ms. Thompson, who runs many of the event’s financial affairs, thought they were capping the number at 440.

“I went a little higher,” said Ms. Schecht, who’s in charge of tickets. “That was money on the table for these groups. I didn’t want to turn that away, but I finally had to cut it off somewhere.”

Recipients are guaranteed 100 percent of the ticket sales. This year, $90,000 more came in from corporations, one of the biggest years for corporate involvement.

Dean Kasperzak, who has been involved in planning all 18 events, said he’s pleased by mix of people Taste of the Nation Toledo has drawn as it’s evolved.

“We’ve really turned it over to the next generation,” he said.

Forty area businesses and three celebrity chefs served up their best gourmet dishes and desserts.

“Everybody brings their ‘A’ game,” Moussa Salloukh, another co-chairman, said. “It’s like a fine wine. It gets better with age.”

The Toledo event is part of a U.S. network that does similar events under the umbrella of Share Our Strength, a Washington-based group that raises money to combat hunger nationwide.

Billy Shore, Share Our Strength chief executive officer, was among those in attendance at the Toledo event.

He said Toledo’s is one of the top 10, possibly one of the top five, most successful.

“There’s clearly a civic spirit here,” Mr. Shore said.

The United States now has 47 million people on food stamps, the most ever. The figure has risen by 20 million in five years, Mr. Shore said.

Nationally, Share Our Strength has raised $380 million since its founding in 1984. It now raises about $50 million a year, he said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.