Meals from the Masters

A culinary fundraiser benefitting Meals on Wheels Delaware

Jim Berman CCI

Hawaii. England. British Virgin Islands. New York. Colorado. Illinois. Chefs from far and near converge in the usually-passed-over-as-a-culinary-hotspot of downtown Wilmington, Delaware for a weekend of good spirited culinary camaraderie, food with purpose and the predictable after-hours debauchery. The mission is to bring donors to the tables of some of the country’s best chefs to ante up support for the good folks of Meals on Wheels and their saintly mission. Hunger is never pleasant and the pangs of Delaware’s impoverished are made more genteel through the efforts of chefs, organizers, contributors and volunteer staff alike. Spread over three days, the event brings over 1500 guests together for the cause.

Kicking off on Friday, guests parlay support for the charitable cause at a mostly- local culinary talent dinner and wine auction. Ripe with regional fare, this year’s Friday splendor is most notable with the culinary prowess of local namesakes like Sean McNeice of the newly launched Ulysses American Gastropub , Anthony Carnevale from Chelsea Tavern and Jennifer Behm, winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Master Chef,  to make waves on the food landscape.

Saturday brings the minions to the catacombs of the Bank of America building for the marathon prep rally, replete with an army of volunteer culinary students, corporate designees and the guest chefs, in their best food-dueling bravado.

The vibe is energetic, if not just a bit intense; there are quality issues that course through the veins of these guys. The kitchen is dyed with colorful language, more skin art than a tattoo convention and mountains of frisee to be plucked.

The exchanges are creative and supportive; there is a sense of civility and belonging that keeps together the people that obviously speak the same language and share a common footing. There are samples of home-smoked jerky to be had, offered up with gusto. There is the griping about the rising cost of seafood. There are tales from last night’s exodus from the after-after-party. The ballet of watching angliotti being made from the crew of Lake Placid Lodge is breathtaking. And humbling. These people have worked long and hard at getting a synergy of which us commoners can only dream. Roll. Fill. Tuck. Cut. Tray. Repeat. And all that would be remarkable alone. Given that the fete was executed in utter silence, nay the unspoken directions of the conductors’ hands as he splayed the sheets of pasta across the stainless table, this is not cooking; it is performance art.

Sunday is the culminating event ; the reason for the chefs’ congregation in the mostly epicurean-catatonic town. The flurry of activity kicks off in the wee hours as the effort of the crew, dark-ringed eyes, aspirin ingesting, and questionable state of consciousness, becomes clear. Dirty chef coats are swapped out for dress whites and food is hurdled skyward on the rickety freight elevator in stark contrast to the glass-enclosed atrium, clad with damask linens and displays reflecting the mood and sensibilities of the respective chefs. There is foie gras to be dressed atop French-toasted banana bread with huckleberries.

The tuna needs to get on ice for the awaiting ahi poke treatment. The duck confit needs to be shredded. The doors open at 10:30 to a stampede of loafers and espadrilles clamoring for fluted glasses of lemon sorbet garnished with king crab and butter powder from Café Juanita of Washington.

The masses crave New York’s The Point Resort’s fried chicken. The scotch quail eggs from England’s The Bell Inn are plucked from the table in a fraction of the time they took to prepare.
And all of the earnest gorging is apropos for this event. There are expensive ingredients, not so expensive ingredients, exotic presentations and very approachable sites to behold and sampled. The real appeal is in the delivery. The food is good. Simply put, the juice is worth the squeeze. The miles travelled, effort exercised and time in all come together for dishes that simply rival one another. There is no competition. Rather, the camaraderie is free flowing and the beneficiaries are the only contenders.