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A choral group sang happy birthday to renowned chef Lidia Bastianich, a Zabar Foundation donation of $100,000 for scholarships was announced and nearly 800 C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program) supporters roamed Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers partaking of tasting delights served by leading New York restaurants at the prestigious gala benefit for the program that gives high school students a chance to hone skills that can lead to entry in the food service industry. Some $675,000 was raised to support the non-profit organization’s program.

The ninth such annual event (Tuesday, February 27, 2007) honored Ms. Bastianich on the occasion of her 60th birthday. She accepted the honors award, an original stainless steel sculpture created by artist Philip Grausman. Bastianich is chef/co-owner of Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto in New York City, Lidia’s Kansas City and Lidia’s Pittsburgh. In addition she is known as Television Celebrity Chef of “Lidia’s Family Table” and a cookbook author. In 2001 she was named Best Chef U.S. by the James Beard Foundation.

TV’s Al Roker set a congenial tone for the benefit, co-chaired by Stanley Zabar and Tim Zagat, with vice-chairs Susan and Richard Grausman, founders of C-CAP, and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit and Riingo serving as chef chair.

An example of what C-Cap accomplishes was the appearance before the group of Amar Santana, who arrived in New York from the Dominican Republic at the age of 13 and has since worked his way into a prominent culinary arts career. After taking a cooking course in high school, Santana, along with his teacher, were sent by C-CAP to study at the Cordon Bleu in London, and in 2000 he received the Elizabeth Grausman Memorial scholarship, which made it possible for him to study at the Culinary Institute of America. He has since become Executive Sous Chef at Aureole, and this fall will become the Executive Chef of a new Charlie Palmer restaurant in Orange County, California.

“Growing up in the Dominican Republic, where sugar water was often dinner, I never imagined that I would be in New York City cooking for a living alongside famous chefs and that something called foie gras would become my favorite food. C-CAP does not only provide the financial means to help students pursue a career in culinary arts, but it also gives its students the motivation and support it takes to make it through the grueling hours and intense competition in this tough business.”

Santana added: “C-CAP’s guidance does not end once you have graduated high school. It keeps on going.”

In addition to the contributions by those participating in the event, further funds were raised by a silent auction featuring culinary and travel packages. In its 17-year existence, C-CAP has provided some $18.5 million in scholarships to students for attending culinary schools and universities. Some 158,000 students have benefited from the non-profit organization’s program, which has involved 3,350 teachers in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Arizona.

I joined the crowd roaming among the 37 chefs’ tables partaking of the goodies. It was fascinating to watch people earnestly sampling specialty dishes while sipping Cabreo La Pietra and Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto wines and Tattinger Comtes de Champagne, courtesy of Kobrand, some strategically planning how they would cover the entire scene with the aid of a map that showed just where each restaurant table was located.

One of the longest lines formed at Shun Lee Palace for the tasty Peking duck, and for good reason. It was superb. But just to name a few of the many other tasting opportunities, I especially enjoyed the braised baby lamb with spring peas and wilted lettuce from Beacon; the butter poached shrimp with smoked ham potato hash and sauce Bacalao from Gilt; the smoked salmon served with red onions, mustard vinaigrette and American caviar from Landmarc; the ragout of periwinkles, foie gras and bacon with herb salad and roasted garlic focaccia from Oceana; classic steak taratre with fresh baby herb salad from Patroon, and “My grandmother’s meat ravioli” from A Voce.

As for desserts, one highlight for me was the black cherry ice cream float from Olives. Others included Telepan’s crunchy peanut butter and milk chocolate gianduja, the Calamansi lime custard, chamomile tea meringue and candied kumquats from Aureole, and the buttermilk panna cotta with raspberry and lime gelée with mango marmalade, mango brunoise and pistachio macaroon from The Modern.

In addition to those mentioned, the list of participating restaurants also included Abigail Kirsch Pier Sixty, Aquavit, Becco, Blue Fin, Buddakan, Café des Artistes, Compass, Country, Craft, Daniel, Del Posto, Esca, Felidia, Fiamma Osteria, Gotham Bar and Grill, Morimoto, Nobu 57, Olives, Pampano and Maya, Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro, Porter House New York, Riingo, San Domenico, Sapa, Town and Union Square Café. Beverages also included Acqua Panna & San Pellegrino. Coffee, espresso and cappuccino were provided by illy caffé.

(For information about C-CAP visit www.ccapinc.org)

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