Taste of Home Gala at Rockefeller Center

Chefs gathered in New York for the good of charity at the annual event for Citymeals-on-Wheels

A Taste of Home Ga

On Monday night at Rockefeller Center, there was such a concentration of food stars that the square practically lit itself. The event was an annual fundraiser for Citymeals-on-Wheels titled "A Taste of Home," where eminent chefs spend the night doling out bite-size bits of 'home-cooking,' Michelin-starred style.

Citymeals-on-Wheels is a program that brings meals to New York City's homebound elderly. In the past year contributors helped bring more than two million meals to the elderly across the five boroughs. This year marked the 26th anniversary of the Chefs' Tribute Event, which began as the brainchild of James Beard and Gael Greene (Beard passed away just months before the inaugural event.)


Iron Chef Marc Forgione's buffalo tartare.

This year's gala focused on family, and few restaurants were represented by several generations of chefs. The Forgiones were present in full force. Is there something in the Forgione family genes that can explain this pattern? "We're all gluttons for punishment," answered Iron Chef Marc Forgione. He was handing out lush disks of buffalo tartare littered with red-veined sorrel. When prompted to name his favorite tartare, he refused to choose. "Fresh, that's my favorite."

Jean-Georges Vongerichten was manning the booth with his son Cedric (Perry St). If there's anything to be gathered from the contents of Cedric's fridge, it's that he's no normal eater. "I always have Sambal Oelek, which is an Indonesian red chili paste," he said. "Cheeses, of course, and sea-eel. Rice, that's ready to be microwaved with the sea-eel, and chocolate." I accused him of acting like my grandmother, who keeps her Hershey's Kisses cold and waxen in the fridge. "Milk chocolate should be chilled!" he insisted.


Chef Michael Paley's roasted corn with lime, aioli, and ricotta salata.

Whether or not chefs really do have perverse tastes, or whether they love giving snippy answers to over-eager reporters is not entirely clear. Chef Michael Paley of Proof on Main, in Louisville, Kentucky was serving roasted corn on the cob spritzed with lime and piled high with smoked aioli and ricotta salata. In honor of summer, I asked him his favorite vegetable. "Celery," he replied, "I love the leaves, the seeds, the stalks. Its flavor complements things, and I love surprising people."

Some chefs were apologetic about their preferences. "I like my chocolate chip cookies crunchy, and my peanut butter cookies chewy," volunteered Aureole's new pastry chef Pierre Poulin. "I'm all mixed up."


Chef Tony Esnault's rhubarb strawberry crumble.

Other chefs were unapologetic. Tony Esnault of Patina (Los Angeles) had a wonderful rhubarb strawberry almond crumble, displayed alongside jars of vanilla beans in cream, yet his allegiances lay elsewhere. "Oh, chocolate over vanilla, always. Chocolate's an aphrodisiac," he added, as if that explained everything. 

Once I exhausted of finding out the eating habits of chefs, I moved on to bigger fish. Bill Yosses works at a little restaurant in Washington, D.C. called The White House and was amiable enough to deflect questions about the Obamas. "A lot of times there's a gap between the myth and reality of the president," he said, "but in his case there is none." According to Yosses, the Obamas do eat very healthily, "He's a very disciplined man." A man who likes steak, doesn't like beets, and likes pie very much. Clearly, a man worth voting for.


Rockefeller Center at sunset.

As the sun set, the golden fountain glowed with colored lights. A new dance-friendly band took to the stage, and chefs began to abandon their stations and mingle in the crowd, Champagne flutes in hand. "I love this event," said a woman working with an assisting catering company. "We help people in need and get amazing food while doing so? It's pretty much everything you need in life."