The crowd was large--some 800 guests--and the food tasting tables were all in order, as those attending the annual benefit on Monday, March 4, 2013, for C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) wended their way on Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers, sampling an array of signature concoctions from 40 of New York’s leading chefs. I entered the lines to enjoy my looked-forward-to experience and had a great time. More details later. The only serving interruption was during the formal proceedings at the podium.

The event’s honoree was veteran restaurateur Tony May, owner of SD26, who in his acceptance speech stressed the need for education of the kind given under C-CAP’s national not-for-profit’s mission of providing scholarships, education, and career opportunities in the culinary arts to underserved youth from schools in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Hampton Roads, Va., District of Columbia/Prince George’s County, Md, and statewide in Arizona. May talked about his own background in bringing his kind of Italian food to New York and stressed how important education has been to him and how much he thought it would mean for young people in the future.

As it turned out, a C-CAP spokesperson reported that this was the most successful benefit ever for the organization, with some $900,000 raised. In choosing to honor May, C-CAP was celebrating his long devotion to his profession.

“This year C-CAP is thrilled to honor Tony May for his remarkable achievements and contributions to the culinary industry and his commitment to nurturing the next generation of chefs,” said Richard Grausman, C-CAP’s Founder and Chairman. “Having Clarissa and Edgar Bronfman Jr. as Chairs of this event is a tribute to Tony’s outstanding career.”

May has been credited with setting a high standard for Italian food dining in a career that spanned 50 years, including owning the renowned Rainbow Room. In 1986 he opened Palio. His San Domenico NY, the flagship restaurant of the Tony May Group, garnered further praise. In 2009 May opened SD26, where he works side-by-side with his daughter Marisa May. Some of the country’s noted chefs began their careers with May, including Andrew Carmellini, Scott Conant, Odette Fada and Marc Vetri.

Past recipients of the C-CAP Honors Award include Michael McCarty, Michael Lomonaco, Marcus Samuelsson, Drew Nieporent, Alfred Portale, Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller, Charlie Palmer, Danny Meyer and Michael Romano, Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pepin, Egidiana and Sirio Maccioni, Nina and Tim Zagat, and Saul Zabar and Stanley Zabar.

CBS2 News Co-Anchor Maurice DuBois was the Master of Ceremonies. Cesar Gutierrez, a C-CAP alumnus and Sous Chef at Lexington Brass of the new EMM Group restaurants in New York City, was the C-CAP graduate speaker, who told of what C-CAP meant to him in getting started in a food career. The Chef Chair was Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem.

Susan Robbins, C-CAP’s President also spoke. “For more than 20 years, we have been transforming lives for thousands of qualified students across the country. We continue to manage the largest independent culinary scholarship program in the nation and, to date, have awarded over $37 million.”

One fund-raising feature was a silent auction, but a number of the special items available were auctioned off by the far-from-silent, colorful, fast-talking Bill McCuddy. On the block were a luxury trip (including first class airfare) to Positano to stay at Villa Tre Ville; a week-long stay (including first class airfare) at J.K. Place on the island of Capri; a jaunt through Rome, Florence and Capri, and a feast for 16 people cooked by Marcus Samuelsson in one’s home or in the private dining room at Ginny's Supper Club, and a wine tasting dinner prepared by Executive Chef Matteo Bergamini for 14 people at SD26. The bidding was brisk and I tallied a total of $69,000 taken in for these goodies. In addition, there was the money raised with all of the other auction offerings not under the McCuddy hammer.

I, of course, could do justice to only some of the tastings. One’s stomach could only hold so much of culinary riches available. Part of the pleasure was talking to some of the restaurateurs represented. For example, I chatted with Chadwick’s Restaurant Executive Chef Sean Quinn, who served delicious tuna tartare with caraway seed, lemon and micro-celery on homemade salt and vinegar potato chips. Maria Loi of the restaurant Loi was especially hospitable as I sampled her tasty Kourou cheese phyllo pies.

I got there early to beat the lines of the ever-popular Peking duck at the Shun Lee Palace table (Michael Tong). I enjoyed at the Oceana table (Ben Pollinger) the Alaska weathervane scallops with sesame, shoyu, shiso and pickled daikon. Strip House (Michael Vignola) offered tasty Wellington slider with New York strip, shitake, marmalade, foi gras, torchon and bone marrow mustard. Also pleasing was Porter House New York’s (Michael Lomonaco) dry-aged prime strip steak, roasted and sliced on a mini potato bun with roasted peppers and sweet onion jam.

Other treats I especially enjoyed were Red Rooster’s (Marcus Samuelsson) barbecued pork belly with fried green tomato and iceberg purée; Colicchio & Sons (Tom Colicchio and James Tracey) braised pork cheeks with perla bianco polenta and gremolata; L & W Oyster Co. (Jason Weiner and David Belknap) clam chowder with Brooklyn lager, house-cured pancetta and corn nuts; Ciano (Shea Gallante) roasted veal meatballs with cream polenta and truffle pecorino; Extra Virgin (Joseph Fortunato) smoked salmon wafer wth horseradish, crème fraîche, pickled onions; Union Square Café (Carmen Quagliata) maple butter braised winter roots with mustard sauce and crispy quinoa; SD26 (Matteo Bergamini) soft quail egg filled ravioli with truffled butter and parmigiano; Michael’s (Kyung Up Lim) mini bulgogi burgers; Sirio Ristorante (Filippo Gozzoli) risotto with fava beans, green peas and balsamic; Nobu 57 (Matt Hoyle) sautéed Natucket Bay scallops on a salad of baby spinach, yuzu, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil and dried miso; BLT Steak (Braden Reardon), dry aged strip loin, black trumpet mushrooms, hazelnuts, sauce bordelaise.

After all of that I still had to have room for desserts and there were some sumptuous ones. The buzz was on for a stop at The General table (Thiago Silva). The sticky coconut cake with mango sauce, braised pineapple, pistachios, shiso-lime syrup and coconut water sorbet was worthy of a prize. I also enjoyed the Modern’s (Marc Aumont) pistachio dacquoise with milk chocolate Chantilly and passion fruit ganâche. Other tasting standouts included Bistro Moderne’s (Ashley Brauze) grapefruit chocolate verrine; Gotham Bar and Grill’s (Ron Paprocki) coconut dacquoise with vanilla, mango and passion fruit crème, and North End Grill’s (Alexndra Ray) key lime cheesecake with blood orange, coconut and macadamia.

Wines and champagne wine were donated by The Charmer Sunbelt Group. And throughout the evening there was music by the David Grausman quartet. Sculptor Philip Grausman designed the trophy presented to Tony May.

The full list of chefs who participated in providing tastings for the benefit included:

Chef Chair: Marcus Samuelsson, Red Rooster Harlem

Philip DeMaiolo, Abigail Kirsch

Toni Robertson, Asiate at Mandarin Oriental

Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto

Philippe Bertineau, Benoit

Braden Reardon, BLT Steak

Sean Quinn, Chadwick’s Restaurant

Shea Gallante, Ciano

Tom Colicchio and James Tracey, Colicchio & Sons

Pastry Chef Ashley Brauze, db Bistro Moderne

John Fraser, Dovetail

Joseph Fortunato, Extra Virgin

Fortunato Nicotra, Felidia

Pastry Chef Thiago Silva, The General

Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki, Gotham Bar and Grill

Jason Weiner and David Belknap, L & W Oyster Co.

Gastón Acurio, La Mar

Marc Murphy, Landmarc

Chris Leahy, Lexington Brass

Maria Loi, Loi

Kyung Up Lim, Michael's New York

Pastry Chef Marc Aumont, The Modern

Matthew Hoyle, Nobu 57

Pastry Chef Alex Ray, North End Grill

Ben Pollinger, Oceana

Pastry Chef Alfred Stephens, Olives

Kevin Lasko, Park Avenue Winter

Michael Lomonaco, Porter House New York

Pastry Chef Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth's

Scott Conant, Scarpetta

Matteo Bergamini, SD26

Yuhi Fujinaga, The Sea Grill

Michael Tong, Shun Lee Palace

Filippo Gozzoli, Sirio Ristorante

Michael Vignola, Strip House

William Telepan, Telepan

Kelvin Fernandez, The Strand, American Bistro

Mario Carbone and Richard Torrisi, Torrisi Italian Specialties

Carmen Quagliata, Union Square Café

Wylie Dufresne, wd~50

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