When I started teaching the restaurant program at Fulton-Montgomery Community College some years ago, I needed a place for my students to practice real life catering. I thought it was important that these scholars apprentice at a real event. A newbie to the community, I began looking for events with the thought that 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 was a fundraising luncheon, I was told, but they have it in Saratoga Springs. I wondered why.
I called the organizers for the luncheon and was told, "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 town around the college, the place where my students lived and would later be seeking employment.
They couldn't find it here. Did they try? I couldn't believe that in these dual counties of more than 100,000, 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, we were able to network with area restaurants and chefs. Together we started the North Country Chefs Association, a group dedicated to the shared interest of providing excellence 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 and Shirley Anadio. We gathered and 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 Soroptimist International of Fulton County. At the time, the club held its monthly meeting at the White Holland House on Route 29. It was owned, managed and successfully run by my 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 would also showcase the talents of area restaurants.
It was a perfect idea that could offer real-life practice for my students. Just what the club was looking for: a great fundraiser. Just what the chefs and restaurants needed: a way to showcase their talents. 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 event drew 200-plus guests. We had to turn people away. Oh busboy, this was restaurant revelry at its best.
Participating at that first event were: The Antlers, C&R Restaurant, Capellos, The Holiday Inn, Isabel's, Kingsburg Golf Course, Lakeside Lodge, Maple Tree Knoll, North Country Chefs Association, The Railyard, Rockwood Tavern, Royal Mountain Inn, Top Notch Tavern, the Unger House, Michael's, Union Hall Inn and White Holland House.
That was April 1992. This is 2014, and the Soroptimist International of Fulton County's 22nd annual Celebrity Chef Dinner will be held April 7 at 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn. Proceeds will benefit Soroptimist scholarships.
Sure there have been changes; we are a growing and changing community. The Food Service Program at the college is no more. The White Holland House is, sadly, no more. Fortunately The Holiday Inn was able to accommodate us, generously giving their time, staff and space.
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, Perthshire, Antoinette's Catering, Timeless Tavern, Forever Young's and more.
The core group remains. The Holiday Inn, The Railyard, Cock and Bull and Union Hall have been at most of the Celebrity Chef Dinners. Lanzis on the Lake only missed the first event because it hadn't opened yet. We have added to this core group with fine restaurants: Grandma Millie's, The Railyard, Sam's and The Inn at Speculator, Mary Ann's (Finnegans), The American Hotel, Russo's, the Moose Club, Hales Mills and Gianna's.
The Celebrity Chef Dinner is more than two decades old and still only $50 per person. This year there will be a Latin theme, a guest chef from the Food Network, a wine pull, the Alex Torres Trio entertaining, a silent auction and the very best Latin food from 16 area chefs and restaurants.
Oh busboy, of course we can get great food and service in Fulton County. The Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce calendar today is chock-full of events: dinners, dances, theater and art. 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.
If you would like to join us at the Celebrity Chef Dinner, tickets are available at the Chamber of Commerce. The easiest way is to visit Celebrity Chef 2014 on Facebook (www.facebook.com/events/1380584345544115/permalink/1399540006981882/) or email me at email@example.com and I will email an invitation. If you would like to learn more about the Soroptimist club, we are always looking for good members.
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.