Tuesday, August 17, 2010 (Telluride, CO) – The words Top Chef first bring to mind the slightly trashy but completely intoxicating reality cooking competition show. The personalities clash, knives slice, blenders whir, tears are shed and in the end it’s not about the food, it’s about the money. On Thursday, Telluride will have its own Top Chef competition. Gone are the cash prizes and instead the chefs will be vying for something bigger: a chance to change a kid’s life. Local “celebrity” chefs will bring the heat in the spirit of doing good, not winning big.
The competition is a fundraiser for local non-profit One to One San Miguel Mentoring, a program that pairs children with mentors in hopes of helping the child’s personal and academic development. Started in 1993 by (still-serving) board members John Mansfield and Allen Gerstle, the program has grown from its origins of 35 children and has since served 340 in San Miguel County. No stranger to fundraising, One to One has put on events like the Cardboard Sled Derby (cancelled the past two years), and a private concert. Top Chef is the latest idea. “I was brainstorming with my friend Jason McTigue of ways to raise funds, and he said why not a Top Chef competition?” said Rick Fusting, board president of One to One.
The components of the new project began to fall into place, especially regarding location and food. Turns out there was a local who happened to know the ins and outs of chef competitions: Patrick Laguens, the executive chef at the Peaks. Laguens, who moved to town a few months ago, has put on Top Chef competitions on Colorado’s Front Range for years. Many event fundraisers for his son’s elementary school. “I was looking for a new children’s charity to do this with,” says Laguens. It took more than Laguens’ initial enthusiasm, however. “Mike Hess, of the Peaks, gifted us the space, food, wine, staff and the effort. … We’re really lucky for The Peaks’ generosity, otherwise this wouldn’t have been possible,” says Vivian Russell, One to One’s executive director. The event will appeal to all the senses.
Laguens is preparing the large selection of antipasti and hot hors d’oeuvres that guest will nibble on throughout the night. “I’m from New Orleans, but I trained in Naples, Italy. The antipasti station will be pretty classic Italian,” says Laguens. Different meats, marinated vegetables, roasted red peppers, an olive bar... Besides antipasti there’s also hot hors d’oeuvres. Stuffed mushrooms and Colorado lamb “lollipops” with mint sauce, anyone?
For the wine connoisseurs among us, the event is also a world wine tasting. Eleven different tables will be set up, each representing a different country. Wine servers at each table will not only offer background on the region (maps and such) but also food pairings. Swirl, sniff, sip, repeat. Oh, and eat.
Taking place on an outdoor terrace at the Peaks from 6-9 p.m., the view is sure to be spectacular. But the real show-stopper is the Top Chef competition. Four chefs will be competing, three of which are heads of local restaurants: Eliza Gavin of 221 South Oak, Erich Owen of The New Sheridan Chop House, and Mark Reggiannini of La Marmotte. Chef Bud Thomas, of Taste Bud’s catering, rounds out the competition. There will be two 30-minute rounds, each in which two different chefs face off against one another. The winners of each round will then move on to the finals and the winner will be crowned with a chef’s hat almost a foot in height, and be given the title: Telluride’s Top Chef. The chefs are only allowed to bring with them 30 ingredients, and must center their dish around a “mystery protein.” In Laguens’ opinion, that’s the trick. “You have to plan for red meat, pork, whatever. You have to bring accompaniments that will translate.” he says, “I’m the only one that knows the mystery protein.” A daunting task, but Chef Mark Reggiannini is planning to “keep it simple and in season,” he says. “The time constraint really limits what I can do, for sure,” says Chef Eliza Gavin. But, “I really respect my competitors. I’m excited to show off my cuisine, as well as see other people’s,” she says. A panel of four local judges will determine the outcome: Kate Wadley, Jim Looney, Sharon Shuteran, and Katherine McNamee. The fifth judge is a silent auction item: bid high enough and it could be you.
There’s even a musician. Rob Drabkin, an award winning singer/songwriter, will provide the tunes. One to One’s Vivian Russell, a Denver native, is a personal friend of Drabkin’s. He was voted by Westword Colorado’s top singer/songwriter. “Rob Drabkin somewhat mirrors Jack Johnson. Not so much in a musical way, but in a singer/songwriter way,” says Christy Fantz in Drabkin’s album review for The Colorado Daily. “It’s always fun to import someone in…give him a little more exposure to the area,” Russell says. Drabkin may even become a familiar name in the next few months, besides playing for the Top Chef event, he is also in the lineup for Blues & Brews in September.
Spend isn’t particularly a sense, but nonetheless important to the event. There will be a silent auction: Up for grabs are food and wine trips, vacation packages (both local and abroad), and other fun items. For example: a catered dinner for six at the Fornby penthouse in Telluride prepared by Cory Muro, the executive chef at Honga’s. Even if you don’t bid on silent auction items, consider attending. Tickets are $65 and available at Bottleworks, from Rick Fusting at Peaks/Sotheby’s (199 W. Colorado Ave.,) or by calling 728-0885. “I hope that people have a great time, and next year they come again. I hope someday we have to limit attendance,” says Laguens.
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