When I started teaching the restaurant program at Fulton-Montgomery Community College about 20 years ago, I needed a place for my students to practice real-life catering. I thought it was important the scholars apprentice at a real event. A newbie to the community, I began looking for events with the thought I could offer volunteer labor for a bit of restaurant reality.
Oh busboy, what did I need? I wanted something with table cloths; something that required dining service, trays, napkins, centerpieces, silverware, coffee cups; something nice. I began asking around. What about fundraising events? What about annual dinners? There is a fundraising luncheon, I was told, but they have it in Saratoga. Saratoga? I wondered why. I called the organizers for the luncheon and was told that "we want to attract a certain group of donors that require the kind of good food and service that we can't get here." "Here" being the hometowns around my college. "Here" being the place my students lived and would later be seeking employment.
Can't find it here! Did they try? I couldn't believe, in these dual counties of more than 100,000 people, there wasn't a talented restaurant faction that could properly service this organization's donor "group." If you don't look for it, you won't find it. Well, I looked for it and I found it.
Under the guidance of longtime chef Bob Dixon of the Holiday Inn, I networked with area restaurants and chefs. Together, we started the North Country Chef's Association, a group dedicated to the shared interest of providing excellent food and service. I remember some of that fledgling group of cooks and chefs: Jim Rose, Russ Dettenrieder, Jim Hannas, Barry Hampton, Ed Sturgess, Rosemarie Lesser, Shirley Anadio.
We gathered. We learned from each other. My students networked and the association became a conduit for chef certification through the American Culinary Federation. A talented group, it needed the world to know.
About this time, I was enjoying my new membership in the Soroptimist Club of Fulton County. The club held its monthly meeting at the White Holland House on Route 29. It was owned, managed and successfully run by my good friend and fellow soroptimist member, Shelly Coons. I'm not sure how it happened or what we were talking about, but Shel came up with the idea of a Celebrity Chef Dinner as a fundraiser for Soroptimist scholarships. It also would showcase the talents of area restaurants. I remember this was weird because Amsterdam chef Danny Petrosino, then at Isabel's, had just told me about a similar idea that very week.
It was a perfect idea. Perfect. Just what I was looking for - real life practice for my students. Perfect. Just what the club was looking for - a great fundraiser. Perfect. Just what the chefs and restaurants needed?- a way to showcase their talents. Perfect. Just what the community needed?- an upscale event to rival anything in Saratoga.
The first Celebrity Chef Dinner was an overwhelming success. Shelly generously donated the use of her restaurant and staff for the evening. The large kitchen of the White Holland House was perfect for the need of the 18 participating chefs. The event drew more than 200 guests. We had to turn people away. Oh busboy, this was restaurant revelry at its best.
Participating at that first event was : The Antlers, C&R Restaurant, Capello, the Holiday Inn, Isabel's, Kingsboro Golf Course, Lakeside Lodge, Maple Tree Knoll, North Country Chefs Association, the Railyard, Rockwood Tavern, Royal Mountain Inn, Top Notch Tavern, the Unger House, Michaels', Union Hall Inn, and the White Holland House.
What an event! That was April 1992. What an event is right. This is April 2011 and Monday night will be the Soroptimist Club of Fulton County's 19th annual Celebrity Chef Dinner.
Sure there have been changes. We are a changing community. We had to change the venue. Fortunately, the Holiday Inn was able to accommodate us. We are still there today. Thank you Jim Landrio and chef Steve Bromford.
Some of the restaurants have rotated and changed over the years. The chef dinner has enjoyed the company of Wally's, The Gathering Place, Royal Mountain Inn, Armory Grill, the Eccentric Club, and The Perthshire, Antoinette's Catering, Timeless Tavern, Forever Young's and more.
The core group remains. The Holiday Inn, The Railyard, and Union Hall Inn have been at every one of the Celebrity Chef Dinners. Lanzi's on the Lake only missed the first event because they hadn't opened yet. We have added to this core group with fine restaurants who have stayed with the event for many years: the Cock n Bull, Grandma Millie's, Fireside Restaurant, The Inn at Speculator, Mary Ann's, the Moose Club, and T.J. Pizza. This year, we will add some new and excellent restaurants: The American Hotel, Jamie Scott's Downtowner, Russo's Adirondack Inn, Sam's Seafood and Steak House, Genco Pasta Restaurants and 391 South Main Street. To that lineup, all I can say is "Yum."
Oh busboy, can we ever get great food and service in Fulton County. The Celebrity Chef Dinner is almost two decades old. The Fulton?County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry's calendar is chock full of events - dinners, dances, theaters. Remember, if you don't look for it, you won't find it and if you can't find it here, you aren't looking.
P.S. If you want to see if we can squeeze you in to the dinner Monday, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org