Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Raises Funds to Fight Childhood Hunger
By Sharon Festinger
The granddaddy of charity food fests, Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation, had hundreds of people swarming the Grand Hyatt in New York on a recent cool spring evening. The guests filled the ballroom, joining the annual mass of the city’s top chefs and mixologists who support this event, all united for one goal: to end childhood hunger.
Fifty-four restaurants sent staff to share their food love and 10 bartenders worked their liquid magic while representatives from 28 wine distributors poured their product. It was a grand effort to entice attendees who aren’t going hungry every day to generously donate money to those who are.
This popular event netted more than $150,000 last year and the expectation is that the organization is well on its way to reaching its goals with the addition of this year’s monies. “The event has raised much-needed funds to support Share Our Strength’s work to end childhood hunger in the US by 2015,” says Jenny Dirksen, the organization’s NYC Director.
Helping to reach those goals is hard work for many of the folks behind the scenes at the gala who spend quite a bit of time prepping for the evening’s event. All came together in time for the guests to be wowed with such unique offerings as:
Felidia’s red quinoa with spring vegetables and truffle sauce. Felidia’s quinoa dish balanced creamy truffle sauce nicely with crunchy peas.
L’Ecole’s smoked trout with cashew nut puree, pickled rhubarb, trout roe and rhubarb-infused tequila from Chef Nils Noren.
Union Square Café’s short rib ravioli (which one taster proclaimed the best thing she’d had).
Picholine’s hamachi cru from Chef Terrance Brennan. The hamachi was marinated in a citrus-soy sauce and was topped with radish sprouts and a sesame powder (made by heating sesame oil and maltodextrin until it coagulates).
The octopus salad with lemon chickpea puree from Chef Lynn Bound’s Café 2 and Terrace 5 @ MoMA. Cafe 2’s dish was devoured by an initially reluctant octopus eater. The meat was a good texture; tender, not rubbery. Its strong grilled flavor came through and was complemented by the chickpea puree. Kalamata olives and micro-arugula sprouts rounded it out.
Chef Floyd Cardoz’s Tabla presented a flavorful rock shrimp balchao with cucumber-coconut raita. Chef Cardoz tweaked the traditional Goan dish slightly. A bit of cilantro gave it a nice bite in addition to other spices present, and the creamy yogurt tempered the heat.
Pure Food and Wine’s hazelnut crostini with crimini mushrooms, caper béarnaise, and caraway sauerkraut,
Hudson Yards’ cheese-stuffed mushroom with bacon aioli.
Rouge Tomate highlighted its first gift from the spring chicken with its spring vegetable panzanella and poached farm egg. The crispy croutons nicely balanced the runny egg.
Snacks included Rick’s Picks’ pickled beet crostini and artisan pretzels from Sigmund Pretzelshop. There were inventive combinations including a gruyere-smoked paprika mini-pretzel with honey mustard and a caraway mini-pretzel with horseradish-beet mayonnaise.
Moving on to the liquids, we started off with a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned from Dutch Kills. It was devoid of fruit save for the lemon twist, as it should be. Perfect. Though wishing to savor, we gulped it down as there was work to do. The old fashioned was quickly followed by the Suffering Bastard from the newborn Painkiller. A refreshing concoction said to have been created back in 1942 “for the bastard in all of us.” (Though, further investigation finds that Trader Vic may well have been the originator.) Not all the drinks sampled were as storied but at least they were as good. Pegu’s Audrey Saunders offered a crisp vodka Mojito gussied up with a pansy, Clover Club had a Hendrick’s gin cocktail with lemon juice, Campari, grapefruit juice, Benedictine, pomegranate molasses, soda and a grapefruit twist that was pleasingly tart. Mad scientist Eben Freeman of the former Tailor shared not a cocktail per se but a tincture (and some bacon bourbon). The mole rum tincture had powerful flavor (though, like bitters, not meant to be drunk on its own) and is an important component of his rum-based South Central.
Asa Scott of Harlem pioneer 67 Orange Street offered an impressive quad. We gave it our best effort and sampled two: The Estate Affair with Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, mint and aromatic bitters; and the Brazilian Jig with Leblon Cachaça, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice and muddled ginger. Cienfuegos from the DeRossi/Ward powerhouse poured a rum punch with Ron Zacapa, Leblon Cachaça, Domaine de Canton, guava and lime juice, simple syrup, soda splash, mint and strawberry garnish. Stalwart Little Branch served the Stone Fence with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, pimento dram, apple cider, ginger, clove and a cinnamon stick garnish. Finally, PDT’s Jim Meehan and Lindsay Nader batched up the Resting Point with reposado tequila (from where the name the resting point comes), Punt e Mes, yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice, agave nectar and muddled strawberries. (Wineries were well represented but we stuck with hard liquor.)
Eleven Madison Park offered “variations of flavors and textures of milk and chocolate.” The extensive component list: Dulche de Leche, dehydrated chocolate mousse, aerated chocolate, Maldon salt, crème fraiche foam, caramelized white chocolate panna cotta, dehydrated milk foam. Frozen ingredients normally used were swapped out for their solid counterparts, presenting a variation on the variations. Even still, it just may have been best in show.
Whew! That was a mouthful.
Many other American cities have their own Taste of the Nation, albeit on a scale much smaller than NYC’s. Many dates have passed but there are still some to come. San Diego, Napa Valley, Denver, Chicago, Miami and Portland (Maine), we’re looking at you. Share Our Strength sponsors such other worthy events as the Great American Dine Out, A Tasteful Pursuit, and Operation Frontline. Go here for more info: www.strength.org.