Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Hungry & the Hungrier

By Emma DeSantis

3pm sharp: I reach the entrance of the Metropolitan Pavilion for a volunteer opportunity – The City Harvest “Bid Against Hunger” event. I found this volunteer opportunity on the school's student intranet, where there are loads of interesting culinary events to sign up for. Guests have brought tickets for an evening of fine food, drinks, and the opportunity to spend outrageous amounts of money towards items in which proceeds go to help New York City’s hungry.

I approach one of the organizers of the event, tell her my name and she lets me know that I will be helping Sushi Samba for the evening.

“If they’re not there yet you can leave your things by their table and help out in the loading area,” she informs me.

They were not there, which didn’t surprise me as the event wasn’t starting until 5:30pm, when the VIP guests arrived.

I made my way to the loading area and started helping chefs from various restaurants around the city carry their boxes or load them on carts and escort them to their chefs’ tables – back and forth and back again.

I thought to myself how great it is to be surrounded by chefs from incredible New York City restaurants who are so highly regarded and well-established in the industry. Restaurants participating included the likes of Porter House New York, Tribeca Grill, Le Bernardin, Magnolia Bakery, Murray’s Cheese, and The Darby.

It was just less then half an hour until the event and the rush of incoming chefs started dying down. I was starting to wonder if I would have a chef's table to assist.

“Well,” said one of the event coordinators. “If you end up not having someone to volunteer for, you can be a floater.”

“A floater?” I asked.

“Yes, you can just go around offering help to different chefs’ tables. But we also need to make sure you can actually help with something and avoid getting in the way.”

Over two hours of carrying boxes and pushing carts and it looks like all I’m going to be for the evening is an inconvenient floater. Splendid!
Five minutes before the start of the event, Sushi Samba arrived and I was excited and relieved that I had a secure spot for the evening. Setting up took no time at all and the first round of food was ready within 5 minutes, just as the initial guests started trickling in. They served glazed pork belly on a bed of lettuce, topped with frisée salad and hearts of palm, then finished with an olive oil and vinegar mixture and a sprinkling of sea salt. The head chef insisted I try one. Well, twist my arm! The sweetness of the glaze, saltiness of the pork, and tanginess of the toppings worked perfectly together.

I looked around for a mere moment. Is that Eric Ripert and Cesare Casella having a good old chin-wag? Yes, yes, it is! My first ever celebrity chef sighting, yet it’s surprising how non-celebrity and very down-to-earth these guys appear. Just another reason why I love this industry.

We continue the plating—lettuce, pork, frisée, hearts of palm, dressing, salt and so this pattern continued. The bidding begins, with guests paying in the thousands for various food experiences such as cooking classes. The final bid of the evening was a dinner with Le Bernardin executive chef, Eric Ripert, which went for $40,000!

The chef’s table next to us was serving tuna belly tacos with sweet onion salsa, and they were kind enough to give us some to try. This was one of my favorite foods of the night. Throughout the course of the evening I also got to try fluke crudo and some of the best foie gras I have ever had. I would carry a thousand boxes for food this fantastic.

With the bidding completed and the food running low, the evening came to a close.

It was wonderful assisting such a great restaurant that is dedicated to providing fine food, as are all the restaurants and chefs that took part. But more importantly, every person at the Metropolitan Pavilion that evening was not there just for the exquisite foods or their chance to outbid another, but to help feed the hungry of New York City.

Emma is originally from New Zealand and is a Classic Culinary Arts student at The French Culinary Institute. She is inspired by cuisines of different cultures and loves to cook for anyone willing to eat her food.

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