The Ravens Brew coffee shop in Cuddy Hall was converted into a wine bar, tables were set with five crystal glasses for each person and the welcoming line of guests in tuxedos and gowns wound 50 yards out the door for the Culinary Arts Department annual black tie fundraiser: the Celebrity Chef Invitational.
On Sept. 16, the Cuddy’s commercial kitchens were bustling with over one hundred people in chef coats preparing a five-course banquet. The event raised $114,000 for the Culinary Department’s scholarship fund,an improvement over last year’s high water mark of $105,000.
Chef John Besh supervised more than 80 Culinary Arts and Hospitality students and a handful of visiting alumni with the help of his assistant Chef Philip Lopez, the department’s instructors and five chefs from some of Anchorage’s finest restaurants. The menu included Alaska king crab bisque and reindeer steak filets while boasting four individual wine pairings and champagne.
Chef Vern Wolfram, an instructor in the Culinary Arts program, discussed the teaching aspect of the event.
“On a regular basis, we would never be able to do this many things (with students), but tonight we are serving 300 people,” Wolfram said. “It teaches students what it’s like to be under a little pressure.”
Culinary Arts student Amy Maxon was excited by the opportunity to work at the event.
“We get hands-on experience with all these different chefs in town and Chef Besh, who is like a celebrity to me, and he is really easygoing and a charmer.”
Besh, who is from New Orleans, has earned a variety of accolades including being named one of the top ten best new chefs in America by Food & Wine Magazine in 1999 and winning the Food Network’s Iron Chef America competition in 2007.
Besh was chagrined to have missed a bow-hunting trip on this visit to Alaska. The University covered his expenses in exchange for Besh donating his time.
“I have never been here without at least going fishing,” Besh said. “I only serve wild Alaska salmon in my restaurants.”
Culinary Arts alum Aurora Wilson graduated in 2007 and now works as the Pastry Chef at the Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage. She confided the more social aspects of the event.
“This event is so special. you get to meet incredible people; its not something a lot of people get to be a part of. I get to see all the old people and the new people.”
As part of the event’s plan to showcase the Culinary Arts Department to the banquets invitation-only guests representing Alaska’s culinary and hospitality business elite, one guest from each table was invited to don a white chef’s coat and help in the kitchen. Jennifer Thompson, CEO of Thompson & Co. Public Relations, was one of the donors in the kitchen.
“There are so many black tie events going on,” Thompson said. “It’s been great to get behind the scenes on this one. It’s a really unique event and a lot less stuffy than some.”
Bill Dugdale, a member of the event’s steering committee, was also at work in the kitchen.
“Last year, every student who applied for a scholarship received at least a partial one,” Dugdale said. “I am always amazed more people don’t apply.”