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Chefs And Champagne Night A Food Lover’s Paradise

Originally Posted: July 30, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The chefs and honorees pose for an apres event group picture. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Sagaponack - Wolffer Vineyard was turned into a food lovers paradise on Saturday, July 25 as close to a 1,000 Hamptonians gathered in support of the annual James Beard Foundation "Chefs and Champagne" fundraiser. Over two dozen of the nation's greatest chefs from the country's most celebrated restaurants contributed their time and talent in support of the event. The event was also supported by many culinary related silent auction items donated from around the world.

Andrea Wolffer awards the scholarship named in her father Christian's honor to Christina Cassell.

This year's event took the time to acknowledge the recent passing of vintner Christian Wolffer, as his daughter Andrea spoke emotionally of her father's passion for wine making, his flare for living and his support of the foundation. This year's honorees were legendary restaurateurs Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini of the incomparable Four Seasons Restaurant, who too suffered a lost this year with the passing of their chef, Christian "Hitsch" Albin.

Wolffer also awarded a James Beard Scholarship, named in her father's honor, to East End local Christina Cassell, a second year pastry chef student at the famed culinary university, Johnson and Wales.

We caught up with Niccolini and asked him if he was thrilled to be one of this year's honorees, he joked, "Of course, since I am not 50 years old yet, I am thrilled to be honored."

Around the perimeter of the tent attendees eagerly sampled the creations of America's greatest chefs.

James Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro was equally thrilled by this year's turnout in a difficult economy, "Actually, we had a very good year in 2009, in some ways I'd like to think we are a leading indicator for the turnaround in the economy. I think people in the culinary world, who love the culinary arts, are not going to stop celebrating and eating and dining and drinking great wines and champagne. We even have a new motto at the James Beard Foundation, you may have seen the buttons, 'We are going to eat our way out of these tough times.'"

Although Manhattan representation was indeed overwhelming, the event was not limited to East End or even New York City chef participation. Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare of the Wynn, Las Vegas chain, Jeff Rogers of The Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club of Carmel, CA, and even Dale Carty of Tasty's Restaurant and the Dune Preserve Restaurant of Anguilla, British West Indies stood the line in support of this seminal culinary foundation.

Two favorite East Hampton eateries were among the legendary restaurants that gave their support as Damion O'Donnell of Harbor Bistro contributed his "Lobster and Mango Crisps with Citrus Nam Pla" and Michael Rozzi of Della Femina offered up his "Montauk Scallop Cocktail with Local Baby Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes." We asked Rozzi to comment on the importance of the event, "I think it is important because the James Beard Foundation does so much for chefs in their early stages, as well as in their more developed part of the profession. I also think it is excellent because it really showcases what it is like being out here on the eastern end of Long Island. All of our clientèle are getting the opportunity to meet the chefs, who rarely get the opportunity to mingle with the guests that dine in their restaurants."

The turnout for the James Beard Foundation "Chefs and Champagne" event was nothing short of spectacular.

Of the many notable Manhattan restaurants present, Australian native Craig Hopson of Le Cirque gave us his observation on the event, "It is always important to support the James Beard Foundation because they do support all we chefs and our restaurants. Whatever they are involved in is really important for all of us to be involved in too. It is always a nice event in the Hamptons, it is beautiful to be out here."

Attendee Mitch Janoff of Bridgehampton shared the sentiment of many of the chefs, "It is my second year - it is a great event. It is a great opportunity to taste the food of a lifetime."

Honorees Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder of the Four Seasons with James Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro.

Of course, great food is nothing without great wine and Wolffer Vineyard did a fantastic job offering a superb selection of their exquisite varietals. Among the wines presented by Wolffer were Rose (2008), Chardonnay (2006), Cabernet Franc (2005), Merlot (2007), La Ferme Martin Chardonnay (2006) and Estate Selection Merlot (2004).

Three champagne houses also contributed to the success of the event in the presence of Lanson, La Caravelle and Nicolas Feuillatte. For those whose tastes go to the hops rather than the vine, the renowned Belgian brewery Stella Artois offered three of their excellent creations.

The James Beard Foundation Chefs and Champagne event was an evening of excellent food, drink and congeniality. The Chefs seemed to glow in the admiration of the epicureans that crowded the tent and the epicureans certainly glowed in the satiation of the chefs' culinary delights. Who knows, maybe we can eat our way out of these tough times?

Chef Michael Rozzi of Della Femina's hands off his culinary creation to a grateful Mitch Janoff.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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