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Annual Great Chefs Dinner Raises Scholarship Funds

Originally Posted: August 13, 2009

Edward Callaghan

Kelly Bensimon, Eric Ripert and Toni Ross at the Great Chefs Dinner for the benefit of the Hayground School. Photos by John Wegorzewski

Bridgehampton - Those wonderfully creative folks at Hayground School sure know how to make the connection between food, art and education as the now annual Great Chefs Dinner once again proved on Sunday, Aug. 9. For the fifth year, an amazing group of top toques gathered together to create pure food ecstasy to remember a much loved and respected colleague, the late Jeff Salaway of Nick & Toni's fame and a co-founder of Hayground School. The gala culinary affair benefitted Hayground School's Jeff's Kitchen and the Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund.

Restaurateurs Eric Lemonides and Mark Smith.

Created by Jeff's sister, Lizz Salaway, to honor his memory and to assist the school he so dearly loved, the event draws an eclectic mix of foodies, artists and staunch believers in progressive education. Jeff's widow and fellow Hayground co-founder Toni Ross and Jon Snow, artist and director of the Hayground Camp, hosted the summer evening event which featured cocktails, lavish hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction, as well as for the gourmands, a four-course dinner in Jeff's Kitchen headlined by four star chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin accompanied by Joseph Realmuto of Nick & Toni's, Christian Mir of Stone Creek Inn and Miche Bacher of Sacred Sweets.

This year the culinary fest was held on the sprawling campus of Hayground School with trapeze wires and aerial artists part of the wildly successful Hayground Camp in full view. With ample parking available there was no need for valet parking - a blessing to many. Upon arriving guests slipped into a huge tent with small lounge areas of bright turquoise and white fabric covered pouffes were available for those who prefer to do their eating sitting down. In the center of the tent, the Silent Art Auction was on display in such a manner that guests could walk around the exhibition and bid on works by some of the East End's most prominent artists - many of them parents of Hayground students or alumni.

Hayground School co-founder Anna Throne-Holst.


Among those who donated impressive works were Jon Alexander,, Ross Bleckner, Roby Braun, Perry Burns, Darlene Charneco, Phillipe Cheng, David Collins, Tim Davis, Tapp Francke, Margaret Garrett, David Geiser, April Gornik, Jenny Gorman, Mary Heilman, Janet Jennings, Hal Katz, Dan Karp, Susan Lazarus, Rima Maroyan, Jane Martin, Linda Miller, Jeff Muhs, Jean Pagliuso, Ray Parisi, Jesse Pasca, Joyce Parcher, Nicole Parcher, Lisa Pevaroff-Cohn, Dan Rizzie, Ken Robbins, Nancy Robbins, Taney Roniger, Toni Ross, Bastienne Schmidt and Wendy Small.

This was one party where you didn't have an interminable wait for drinks as there were many cocktail options ringing the tent. Longtime pal of Jeff's and an ardent supporter of Hayground School, Michael Cinque of Amagansett Wine & Spirits was proudly poring his new rose, Mikey Five. Cinque explained the choice of the name, "Jeff always called me 'Mikey Five' as my last name translated to English means five." A nice compliment to Jeff's memory for sure! Next to Cinque Joe Watson and his team from Vine Wine + Café on the North Fork manned an exotic Champagne Bar serving up fruit and syrup laced champagnes variations on the popular Kir Royale. On the opposite side of the tent Lenz Vineyards staff was kept busy pouring their award winning wines.

Hayground school co-founder Toni Ross, Sarah Salaway and Lizz Salaway, founder of the Great Chefs Dinner.

For those who liked their spirits stronger, Marco and Claudia of Crop Vodka which recently launched its series of beautifully infused vodkas - tomato, cucumber and herb - could barely keep up with the demand for cucumber martinis and the like.

Michael Osinski of Widow's Hole Oysters could have won a shucking contest anywhere on the Eastern seaboard as he deftly opened and with a quick twist of the wrist plied the succulent meat from the shell in seconds. Bryan Futterman's team from Foody's had a long line for its pulled pork sandwiches and zesty cole slaw. The rest of the hors d'oeuvres were served by waitstaff eliminating the lines but also eliminating the contact with the chefs whose creations were being served. In previous years, chefs like Tom Colicchio and Eric Ripert were on hand at their stations for a little face time which was always a thrill to the serious foodies.

Surf Lodge's Sam Talbot and his sous chef Matty Young did come out from the kitchen tent to accept well deserved kudos from fans for their imaginative combination of Lump crab with blueberries, ginger and crumpled popcorn! What a sensory experience!

Sponsor Michael Cinque of Amagansett Wine & Spirits.

Jesse and Reed Boone of Mark it with G turned out tasty Brioche with brie and walnuts. Andrew Engle of The Laundry sent out crispy fried blow fish in a rice puff coating with Asian slaw and a sweet onion soy vinaigrette; for 1770 House chef Kevin Penner it was Raw striped bass with Chinese Celery; Tom Schaudel opted for Yellow fin tuna tartar; Michael Domitrovich of the Montauk Yacht Club was represented with BBQ scallop taquitos and Jason Weiner of Almond fame both on the East End and now New York offered an elegant chilled watercress and zucchini soup topped with house smoked bluefish. It was interesting that so many of the chefs took advantage of the abundant varieties of seafood available on the East End for their special offerings.

A real crowd pleaser came from the kitchens of Art of Eating and Cheryl Stair. Cunningly described on the menu card as "Local Market Bites," her thumbnail size hors d'oeuvres were actually morsels of the silkiest foie gras paired with split white grape and wrapped Sushi style in a thin slice of prosciutto. Absolute heaven! This is a market I want to shop in every day.

Hayground Camp Director and host, artist Jon Snow.

While hungry guests satiated their food passions, a number of musical groups from Crossroads Music performed. Especially entertaining was a trio of African American musicians playing traditional African instruments and melodies.

Throughout the cocktail reception master chef Eric Ripert and his team of fellow chefs was busily prepping the final details for an extraordinary dinner for those lucky - and with a little extra cash - enough to have scored a seat at one of the massive French country oak tables in Jeff's Kitchen, which was actually made possible by the very first Great Chefs Dinner in 2003. Fitted with top of the line appliances from Viking Stoves to Turbo Chef ovens to Sub Zero refrigerators, the kitchen is a marvel and functions as classroom/science lab/cooking school/community gathering place. It was the most appropriate setting for this very special feast as all could see the fruits of the previous dinners.

Upon sitting, guests were greeted with platters of marinated Nicoise olives in olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and herbs from the Hayground garden; Catapano Farms chevre in olive oil, fresh cracked pepper; artichoke tapenade; French breads; local fluke crudo; local sea bass en escabeche and langoustine ceviche. And that was just for nibbles!

Guests admired the art up for bid at Great Chefs Dinner.

The second course was a plated salad of baby garden lettuces, fine herbs and summer truffle raised by the students in the Hayground Greenhouse donated by the Slow Food Convivium of the East End. The third course served family style Roasted Local Striped Bass, layered with garden vegetables and fresh herbs; Stuffed Saddle of Baby Lamb; Garden Heirloom Eggplant Gratin and Hayground Heirloom Tomato Salad Summer tomatoes, fresh herbs, toasted garlic and capers.

Despite all of this bounty there were enough desserts for the most sweets addicted diner - local summer fruit tart with vincoto glaze, buttermilk ice cream and raspberry crush and a variety of truffles and cookies including hazelnut bon-bon, Champagne Courvoisier bon-bon, rosemary shortbread, vanilla ginger sable, lavender shortbread, orange cornmeal that are the hallmarks of Miche Bacher's Sacred Sweets kitchen.

Eric Ripert adds the finishing touch.

Truly a memorable feast and one that was true to the philosophy of the school of sourcing the best local produce and utilizing the finest ingredients in the area.

"At Hayground, the 3 Rs can sometimes stand for recipe, roast and roux, since one of our most innovative features is Jeff's Kitchen," explains Lukas Weinstein who has worked with the progressive school over the years. Says Nick & Toni's Toni Ross, "Jeff believed that the growing, preparation and sharing of food is a primal human experience and the foundation of family and community." The professional kitchen/classroom supported by a science lab, garden and greenhouse, was being planned by Salaway just prior to his tragic death in 2001.

Completing the facility, recently a professional Farmtek greenhouse was erected by Hayground students, staff and friends with funds provided by Slow Food. Previously, in an equally meaningful tribute, The Jeff Salaway Scholarship Fund was established in 2001 by Jeff's friends and colleagues to make Hayground School even more readily available to the diverse spectrum of East End children. To date, $700,000 has been raised to support Jeff's Kitchen and to provide tuition for numerous students. Organizers said that this year's event grossed some $200,000. As almost everything right down to the last cookie is donated, this will be a very nice addition to the scholarship fund.

The Great Chefs Team.

Kudos to all the parents, founders, volunteers, chefs and their teams who once again made this a feast for all the senses!

Hayground School was founded in 1995 when a local group of parents, educators and community members to discuss a better way to educate their children. This group included representatives from the Native-American, African-American, Latino and Euro-American communities on the East End of Long Island. Their shared vision, Hayground School, opened in September 1996, with 60 students from pre-K to eighth grade. Hayground's mission is to provide an open community school where unproductive conventions are replaced with new ways of teaching and learning. The school was founded on the conviction that all children can and should live a life of the mind, be serious and passionate readers, engage in serious discourse, and work and study in an environment where art is at the center, not the periphery, of life.


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