Think Local/Give Local. That was the theme at the second annual Garces Foundation Gala held at the Kimmel Center in Center City Philadelphia where nearly 800 attendees celebrated this past Thursday. Chef Jose Garces and his wife, Dr. Beatriz Mirabal Garces, once again hosted this grand gala, which raises money for the Garces Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to getting essential care and education to Philadelphia’s vibrant and growing immigrant community.
Chef Garces handpicked more than two dozen local chefs to deliver an unforgettable epicurean experience — a VIP dinner and live auction atop the Hamilton Rooftop Garden; and a silent auction, eating, drinking, mingling and dancing in the Kimmel Center’s plaza. Keeping with the theme of the evening, each dish highlighted locally sourced ingredients. With all of these top chefs at one event, it would be impossible to recap all the servings in one single sentence, although a handful of personal favorites included: American Sardine Bar/South Philly Tap Room’s shellfish salad, Distrito’s tacos de cordero with adobo-braised lamb and mint sauce, accompanied by spicy corn slaw, La Calaca Feliz’s tacos with Countrytime Farm pork butt & True Leaf micro greens, Rosa Blanca’s pork & rice and Vedge’s wood roasted corn & trumpet mushroom salad with whipped eggplant and chervil vinaigrette.
Between bites and sips, we set out to find the the stories behind the food industry folk. We asked some of the Graces Foundation Gala’s chefs and owners to share their (chocolate covered) memories regarding one question …
In keeping with the “Think Local/Give Local” theme, what were your favorite experiences involving locally sourced ingredients when you were a child? …
Distrito‘s chef Susan VanVreede: I grew up in Newtown, Bucks County, and Shady Brook Farms was right around the corner. My mom would take my brothers and me there, and depending on the season, we would roam the crops and pick our own berries and pumpkins right off the vines. And nothing was better than going in the summer and getting their corn! It was always my job when we got home to shuck all the corn, but it didn’t bother me one bit once I chomped into that delicious, sweet, buttery corn on the cob!
Forty 1° North & Christie’s executive chef Christopher Lee: Being from Long Island, corn and tomatoes were the local ingredients that we sourced out all summer long and couldn’t wait until the next season to enjoy the sweet ingredients again.
Garces Group‘s executive chef/owner Jose Garces: I always loved the simplicity of really ripe fruit straight from the source. It’s one of the things that inspired me to build Luna Farm. When I was growing up in Chicago, we used to take weekend day trips to orchards to pluck apples, pears and peaches straight from the trees.
Garces Trading Company‘s chef Adam DeLosso: My childhood favorite was on a field trip to Linvilla Orchards in kindergarten. We went apple picking, and it was the first time I ever had a fresh apple with local honey. It was great.
La Calaca Feliz‘s chef Tim Spinner: I moved from Staten Island, New York to a town called Plainsboro, New Jersey in 1986, when I was 8 years old. At that time, Jersey was really the Garden State. Our house was surrounded by farms and fields. I fondly recall running through the corn fields, playing hide and seek and then grabbing a few ears and bringing them home for dinner. My brothers and I would also grab some potatoes in the opposite fields. Farm-to-table was right out in our backyard.
Rosa Blanca’s chef Yun Fuentes: In Puerto Rico, people have all sorts of fruit trees in their back yards. As a kid, we would walk around and pick mangos, starfruits and other fruits from the ground. The best experience by far was picking up plantains and cooking them with my grandad. He used to be a Chef at the Hilton in Puerto Rico. Here’s a photo of my grandpa with his plantains in Puerto Rico …
Tinto‘s chef David Conn: Probably my most vivid food memories from child hood are catching and cooking crabs on the Chesapeake Bay and eating them out back on picnic tables. My grandfather lived by the Magothy River in Maryland, and this was always one of my favorite summer activities as a kid.
Vedge‘s owner/chef Kate Jacoby: My next door neighbor “Uncle Ran” kept a beautiful garden. He used to let my brother and me help out every once in a while, then we would end up on their back porch shucking peas with his wife “Aunt Ev.” I remember eating the peas raw and being dazzled by the flavor. Fresh out of the garden, they were so green, so punchy and so bright. So very different from the canned stuff that I had often encountered, cloaked in butter. To this day, and often at wine tastings, I think back to those taste memories on their back porch. That was the first time I became aware of my palette and learned to use it.
Vetri‘s head chef/owner Marc Vetri: Pumpkin picking on the farm was always my favorite day of the year, not because I cared about Halloween so much as the roasted pumpkin seeds my mother used to bake for us after we hollowed out the Jack-O-Lanterns. It amazed me that something so delicious could come from that pile of slop inside a pumpkin! It’s still a tradition in my family to this day.
Zama‘s chef Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka: When I was a kid, my mother would go to the market and get a whole fish. From there, we did not just cut off the fillet and eat. The entire fish was the meal for the next week-plus. The bones were used for stock. The head for soup. The entire fish.
Zeppoli‘s chef/owner Joey Baldino: As a kid, my parents always took me and my siblings apple picking at the local farm, Linvilla Orchards. That was always fun, and the apples were used for cooking at home. However, my fondest memories are in late-August, early-September when we would head over to some small farms in South Jersey to pick up cases of beautiful ripe tomatoes. We’d peel them, puree them and then cook them slow. The tomatoes were sealed in a jar, so we could have fresh tomato sauce throughout the winter months. This is a tradition that remains to this day in our family! It’s a lot of fun and means a lot to us as Italians. We use small farms like Flaim Farms over in Vineland, New Jersey. The owners are very nice, and they even donated the Sicilian eggplant that I will be using in my dish for this great Garces Foundation event. We similarly pickle and jar eggplant from the farms in South Jersey, as well.