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Rumrunner’s Celebrity Chef Auction raises record amount

By Staff | Aug 21, 2015

This year’s Rumrunner’s Celebrity Chef Auction was another success for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

In addition to returning attendees, there was a significant presence of first timers, all of whom who helped bring this year’s total to $153,000. That brings the grand tally for this annual event to benefit the hospital to more than $1 million.

One of the biggest fundraising events in Cape Coral each year, Rumrunner’s is host to a sellout crowd of Cape Coral and Lee County residents, with attendees also from Sanibel and Captiva, Naples and Port Charlotte.

From its first event 11 years ago – the week after Hurricane Charley- where $34,000 was raised through last evening’s event which has surpassed recent years in funds raised in the hundreds of thousands, the popularity of this event in the slow summer months is a testament to Cape Coral and the surrounding area’s commitment to building the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida so that families who live here don’t have to travel to Tampa or Miami to have their children treated in an already traumatic health situation for the patients and their families.

Rumrunner’s Celebrity Chef Auction supports Barbara’s Friends, named after the late daughter of founder Frank Haskell, children suffering from cancer who need financial assistance, programs, and special equipment. No funds go toward operational expenses and all go toward systems, equipment and needy patients. Since 2011, some of the capital has gone towards the expansion fund to help build the hospital; when the hospital is completed, all the funds will go back to cancer funds.

With it being a sellout for the last three years, people mark their calendars and travel schedules to get a ticket early to this event. Guests from surrounding areas, join Cape Coral philanthropists for this fun evening that is so much fun and brings in so much money for Barbara’s Friends and the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Founders of this event and partners in the successful Rumrunner’s restaurant in Cape Harbour, Chef Todd Johnson, Jeff Gately and Chef Ralph Centalonza have generously closed their restaurant for the last 12 years to host this event for the community and asked their celebrity chef friends to be a part of this event and it has grown exponentially every year, with many of the guests attending all 12 years.

Chef Johnson was effusive in his praise of this year’s event. “It is another magical night especially with the kids showing up. With a lot of local fundraising events that I attend or are a part of, there is no presence of who the charity is for. What is so spectacular, especially about last night, is that the kids attend with their parents as our guests and Pediatric Oncology physicians; Dr. Emad Salman and Dr. Craig MacArthur, along with Dr. Larry Antonucci, Chief Operating Officer of the Lee Memorial Health System are a part of the evening and love spending time with their patients who they become very close to. Everyone can see where the money is going and are generous and open up their arms to this cause. The chefs, by far, outdid themselves. Every year we get compliments, but last night I think I got more compliments on everyone’s food than past years.”

Caliah Russell, a former Barbara’s Friends Child of Hope, helped sell raffle tickets – who could deny her? Little Avery McCaskill helped plate and serve food at the Rumrunner’s table and was so proud of her custom chef’s jacket. Both girls stood on chairs during the auction and told the crowd how much the hospital means to them, which brought the house down – they are two of the reasons that this Children’s Hospital is so needed in this area.

Katy Martinez, Foundation special events planner for the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation, was the lead planner this year and is also a Cape Coral resident.

“I think it is great to see chefs come together who would normally be in competing restaurants for business,” Martinez said. “They have a blast along with an opportunity to showcase their talents and they are doing it just to help the kids. Within the industry, they are all great friends and love the opportunity to work together at this event. Having the children attend makes it really special and inspires the guests, donors and employees. The Barbara’s Friends Children of Hope attend with their families and get their own custom chef’s jacket and get to help the Rumrunner’s table plate and serve to the guests and is always a big hit with the children and the guests..

“As a mother with children, it means a lot to know that this community has spearheaded these events to bring funds and attention to the kids that so desperately need it and can get local treatment,” she added. “The new hospital will make that more probable because we have more beds and specialty services to offer here so that parents don’t have to make a choice between being with their children in Tampa or Miami or staying here to work to cover the bills, especially when treatments spread out over years in some cases. They can stay in Lee County while their children are being treated here.”

This year’s major sponsors were Century 21 Sunbelt (Cape Coral), Texas Roadhouse, Scanlon Auto Group, Jason’s Deli (Cape Coral), Cat Country, Ric Baus (Cape Coral), Ryan and Natalie Van Horn, LeeSar and Water City Grill (Cape Coral).

There was such fierce bidding on the Rumrunners “Dinner on the Dock with Friends” package, which consisted of a six course special menu with wine pairings donated by Chef Todd Johnson and Chef Ralph Centalonza, that the chefs generously added another donated package bringing in $8,000 each.

The Master Chef dinner by Chef Derrick Peltz, a finalist in the Master Chef television show, was in a bidding war with the victors winning the package at $15,000 and having Chef Peltz create in their home some of the show winning recipes.

The Give to Give, straight money donations for specific needs in the Children’s Hospital, raised enough money to purchase 10 LED interactive play benches for patients in the Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Prominent local chefs Chef Todd Johnson and Chef Ralph Centalonza (Rumrunners), Chef Brian Roland (Crave Culinaire), Chef Harold Balink (Cru), Chef Norman Love (Norman Love Confections) and newcomer to this event from Sanibel, Chef Neil Griffin (Il Cielo) each offered tantalizing food at their stations for guests. Guests got to dine on items like: Rumrunner’s Five Spice Sous Vide Beef Tenderloin, Okinawan Sweet Potatoes and Secret 7 Sauce; Crave’s Crispy Shellfish Arancini with Ricotta-Andouille Semifreddo, Red Pepper Drops, Heirloom Tomato Compote, Bouillabaisse Jus, Tropical Watercress-English Pea Coulis; Cru’s Duet of Venison, Il Cielo’s House cured king salmon, grilled shrimp, hot pepper jelly and local corn cake; and top it off with Norman Love’s amazing chocolate buffet and live dessert station.

Master Chef Finalist Peltz, who also attended has local connections.

He was born at Lee Memorial Hospital and grew up in Estero. His mother, Stacie Peltz, has been a long-time employee of Lee Memorial Hospital. Although he has a tremendous fan base in the area, guests didn’t mind missing seeing him move up as a finalist on Master Chef last evening because they got to talk to him in person and have their photos taken with him at the event, with one lucky bidder winning \ the opportunity to have him come to their home and cook some of the top winning dishes on the show.

He was a great addition to the evening but fans will have to wait for the season finale to find out if he won.

The Golisano Children’s Hospital is under construction on the campus of Healthpark and is becoming a reality and will make a huge difference the lives of Southwest Florida children and their families. If you would like to know more about this event or be involved as a sponsor, donor or guest next year, call the Foundation office at (239) 343-6950