The Museum of Contemporary Art is still reeling over the fourth annual Common Threads World Festival event which rocked their house on Monday, March 23rd. It was a success in every way and in these tough economic times, this is really saying something! Over 650 people filling every nook and cranny were treated to flavors from around the world. Forty chefs from all across the country lovingly prepared their specialties for an appreciative crowd of foodies, fashionistas and fun lovers. Chefs included Gale Gand (Tru), David Christophe (NoMi), Mario Santiago (May Street Café), Mindy Segal and Mark Steuer (Hot Chocolate), Giuseppe Tentori (BOKA), Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger), Chris Nugent (Les Nomades), Stephanie Izard (Top Chef Season 4 winner), Kendall Duque (Sepia), Della Gossett (Charlie Trotter’s), Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven), Art Smith (Table 52), Graham Elliot Bowles (Graham Elliot), Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s & Martinez), Malika Ameen (Aigre Doux), John Besh (Restaurant August), Radhika Desai (Top Chef Season 5 contestant), Koren Grieveson (Avec), Steven Harty (Wolfgang Puck Catering), Tyler Florence (Food Network), Bill Kim (Urban Belly), Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith (The Hearty Boys), Jaime Laurita(Madonna’s personal chef), Shelley Young (Chopping Block), Kevin Hickey (Four Seasons) and Suzanne Imaz (Sofitel Water Tower). Photos from top right: Chef Art Smith, Common Threads executive director Linda Novick O'Keefe and Jesus Salguiero; Todd Hatoff of Allen Brothers with Common Threads students; crowd shot at the World Festival; Michelle Bernstein and crew at the VIP reception; me, Linda Novick O'Keefe and Katherine Chez; John and Susan Colletti with Rich and Cynthia Varnes; auctioneer Leslie Hindman, Megan Loewe and Marty Higgins; Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and crew at the VIP reception; auctioneer Leslie Hindman and mistress of ceremonies Gail Simmons; Donna LaPietra and Chuck; Jim Rose and Lakesha Draine; Chef Ming Tsai, Linda Novick O'Keefe and Food Network's Tyler Florence. For more photos from this event, click here.
Upon entering the space, you were greeted by artist Jesus Salguiero’s giant heart paintings of the Common Threads logo; he later donated them all to the chefs who so graciously volunteered their time and efforts for this worthy event. The next thing you saw were some darling Common Threads students (mini-chefs!) in action preparing one of their signature dishes – spring rolls – for guests. As you can see from the photos, they were very proud to show off the skills they had learned in class. For two hours each week over a 12-week session, these students learn basic cooking skills but this program is about so much more than a simple cooking class. Yes, they learn the importance of nutrition but they are also taught about physical well-being and how to connect with each other’s cultures all in the warm comfort of the kitchen. Founded in 2003 by Chef Art Smith and his life partner, Jesus Salguiero, Common Threads provides after-school programming to over 1000 children ages 8-12 who are living in areas of economic deprivation. Programs are taught at 12 sites in Chicago and two in Los Angeles and I’m happy to announce that they just opened a new location in North Miami two weeks ago! In addition to the cooking classes, they also provide etiquette classes twice a year and a summer camp where various chefs donate their time to work with the kids. I learned as much as the kids in the etiquette class; it was both a history lesson and a class on the culture of cuisine! In short, Common Threads ROCKS!! Photos from top right: Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard; Take Home Chef Curtis Stone and Christine Ott; Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Gail Simmons and Chef Ming Tsai; Judd Malkin and Katherine Chez; John Chiu bidding during the live auction; Debra Torres from Table 52; Scott McLellan and Charlie Gitto from RL; Judd Malkin, Marvin Herman, Terry Newman and Mary O'Connor during the live auction; Sheryl Dyer from Van Cleef on stage with Gail Simmons; Patrick Sheahan and Martin Gasphis. For more photos from this event, click here.
I was proud and honored to be a co-chair for this exciting event along with Katherine Chez and Mayari Pritzker. Mistress of ceremonies was the dynamic Gail Simmons from Food & Wine magazine and Bravo’s Top Chef. Common Threads executive director (and my dear friend) Linda Novick O’Keefe pulled it all together with her team which included Nikki Jolly, Jillayne Samatas, Allison Liefer, Mary Ann Weprin, Courtney Treutelaar and Kristin Weiss. It was a formidable undertaking but I am happy to announce that the event surpassed our fundraising goals and netted a whopping $413,000. The live and silent auctions alone brought in $162,500! The live auction was presented by crack auctioneer Leslie Hindman and Tyler Florence, the handsome star of the Food Network. Of the 10 live auction packages, the top prize was a vintage Bambi Airstream trailer designed by White House decorator Michael S. Smith which netted $50,000. A “backyard BBQ” for 40 prepared by chefs Giuseppe Tentori, Bill Kim, Mindy Segal and Graham Elliot Bowles brought $15,000; there was also a trip to London with an intimate lunch for two at the home of talented chef Nigella Lawson and champagne and canapés with the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver followed by dinner and special wines at Fifteen Restaurant. To top it off, winners also received two FRONT ROW seats to the Madonna concert! This unique package went for $12,000. Another package included a “Top Chef BBQ” for 30 prepared by Stephanie Izard and three other Top Chef contestants that brought $12,000. A private dinner for 10 prepared by Chef Art Smith at the home of celebrated art collectors Marilyn and Larry Fields brought $11,500. And for this evening, the lucky winners will be picked up in a vintage 1960 Phantom V Rolls Royce limousine with their own chauffeur which was graciously donated by friends Deb and John Gross. And the bling for the evening, donated by Van Cleef and Arpels, was a pair of diamond Alhambra earrings valued at over $10,000 which brought $6,500. I think this bid was so high because store manager Sheryl Dyer presented them beautifully onstage and even provided a brief history of their name! What bad economy? It seems to me that people are just choosing their favorite charities and giving them their all. See my interview on this event and my take on the state of philanthropy in Crain’s by Mary Cameron Frey here. Thanks for a great article, Mary! :) Photos from top right: Kasia and Greg Kay; Marianne and Goran Strokirk; Nicole Serr, Patrick Hatton and Amanda Puck; Chili Pepper, Sheryl Dyer and me; Blagica Stefanovski Bottigliero; Diana McCarthy standing beside a beautiful charcoal and watercolor donated by Francine Turk; Samantha Amato and Conley Shirley; Moet champagne bar at the after party; Michelle Bernstein's fabulous pasta dish; Nick and Linda O'Keefe; John and Deb Gross; Eric Unger, Mary Cameron Frey and Andrea Hanis. For more photos from this event, click here.
The VIP reception prior to the World Festival introduced guests to a Carnivale atmosphere consisting of Latin American flavors and mojitos and the VIP After Party was held at the James Hotel and featured the Million Dollar Quartet. The after party was jubilant as you can imagine with the success of World Festival: Everyone let down their hair (except for me!) and danced the night away!!! As you can tell by all of the accompanying pics, everyone had a blast! (And speaking of pics, infinite thank yous to Randy Belice Photography on behalf of Chicago magazine for many of the photos you see here.) Happy guests included Terry Newman, Ken Norgan, Manolis Alpogianis, Amanda Puck, Cynthia and Rich Varnes, Susan and John Colletti, Donna LaPietra, Hedwig and Robert Golant, Marianne Strokirk, Mary O’Connor, Carter Kennedy, Sarita Dandamudi, Margaret Rainone, Andrew Gableman, Thomas Konopiots, Michael Haak, Helen Melchior, Christine Ott, Sheryl Dyer and Alan Sax, John Haskett, Anthony Michael, Todd Hatoff, Marshall Erb, Chili Pepper, Deb and John Gross, Martin Gapshis, Judd Malkin, John Chiu, Celeb TV’s Kelli Zink, Samantha Amato, Marty Higgins, Channel 7’s Jim Rose, Scott McCLellan, Charlie Gitto, Amanda Puck, Nicole Serr, Patrick Hatton, Kasia and Greg Kay, Lisa Zandee, Margaret O'Connor, Michael O'Meara and many more. Thanks so much to all of you who came and supported this event and for those of you who didn’t, you can mark your calendars NOW for next year!!! If you would like to become involved with Common Threads or if you would like more information about this wonderful organization, please call (312) 752-2692 or visit www.commonthreads.org. Photos from top right: Celeb TV's Kelli Zink and me; Tommy Kane, Amanda Puck, Meredith Miller Elliot and Liza Sweitzer; Gail Simmons and Rahdika Desai; mini-chefs impressing guests at the VIP reception; me addressing the crowd; Jesus Salguiero's heart paintings. For more photos from this event, click here.
And, as always, I like to leave you on an upbeat note so please check out this video entitled “Holding Hands” and feel the stresses of the day lift off of your shoulders and a smile creep across your face. See you next time!