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Celebrity Chef Night marks its ‘biggest year,’ organizers report

By Staff | Aug 20, 2009

Rumrunners at Cape Harbour played host to the 2009 Celebrity Chef Night Wednesday night, an event to benefit Barbara’s Friends: The Children’s Hospital Cancer Fund.
Hundreds of people sampled dishes and desserts from some of Southwest Florida’s premiere restaurants — Rumrunners, The Joint, H2, Mad Takeout and Norman Love Confections — while raising money for children in Lee Memorial Health System’s cancer center.
The tasting event, which cost $125 per person, has grown in size each year.
According to Jeannie Cummings, director of development for the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation, 280 people purchased tickets before Wednesday and event capacity was 300.
“This is our biggest year, we’ve never been so close to capacity,” she said.
Celebrity Chef Night also featured a silent auction where guests bid on an electric guitar autographed by musician Dave Matthews, season tickets to Everblades hockey, limited edition prints from the work of Robert Rauschenberg and other specialty items.
Four families with children diagnosed with cancer attended the event.
Penny Wilkins’ 9-year-old daughter Sterling was diagnosed last year with a form of brain cancer and has been receiving treatments at The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida since June 2008.
Both said they enjoyed the sampling of food from the celebrity chefs.
Wilkins said her daughter’s experience at the hospital has been positive given the unfortunate circumstances of her diagnosis.
“Everybody up there is very nice, they are so tuned in with the kids,” she said. “The treatment has been great, she has responded very well.”
Sharon MacDonald, vice president of Oncology for Lee Memorial Health System and chief foundation officer, said the event typically draws in approximately $30,000 for the children’s cancer unit.
This year organizers are expecting close to $50,000.
“This event is our spring board to the Kids With Cancer Radiothon,” said MacDonald.
The radiothon is broadcast live Oct. 16 from Miromar Outlet Mall in Estero. The funds are later added to the proceeds from Celebrity Chef Night and handed over to Barbara’s Friends.
MacDonald said both events assist the only children’s cancer unit in Southwest Florida.
“Many of the services provided wouldn’t be possible without the support of the community,” she said.
Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan said Celebrity Chef Night is a popular event that is always full. He tries to attend every year.
“It’s always wonderful when people come out who are dedicated to helping children in our community,” said Nathan.
Samples offered by local chefs ranged from beef to seafood Wednesday night.
Todd Johnson, head chef of Rumrunners, and Chef Ralph Centalonza served roasted tenderloin of beef with wild mushrooms and fava beans.
Chef Kevin Healey from The Joint served smoked salt seared scallop with succotash and lemon burre blanc. Chef Harold Balink from H2 served spicy crab dumplings in a lobster basil consomme, and Ruth Cohen from Mad Takeout served a gourmet organic salad.
Chocolatier Norman Love served an assortment of confections.
Guests also had a chance to purchase a $50 champagne flute with a chance to win a $2,000 diamond.