Chicago Tribune : Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Illinois hosts Grand Chefs Gala

By: Candace Jordan for The Chicago Tribune on February 10, 2016

During Chicago Restaurant Week, one of the most prestigious events in town is the Grand Chefs Gala, this year held in the Grand Ballroom of Navy Pier on Jan. 29. More than 1,000 guests participated in this celebration of food and chefs that is the largest fundraiser hosted by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Greater Illinois. The evening also honored one of the city’s top restaurateurs, Phil Stefani, owner of Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants.

The program was hosted by Jeff Mauro, host of Food Network’s “The Kitchen” and “Sandwich King.” He spoke about the importance of this 19th annual gala and how he became involved after meeting the D’Agostino family, whose daughter Julie passed away from cystic fibrosis last year.

Mauro introduced Bryan Anderson, executive director of the Foundation, who announced that in July 2015, the FDA approved a new drug, Orkambi, to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. He said, “Our mission is to cure the disease and provide all affected by it the opportunity to lead a full and productive life. … We’ve made great progress, but I look forward to the day when C.F. will stand for ‘cure found.'”

During the preVdinner reception, more than 35 of Chicago’s top chefs served up signature tastings. Jean Banchet Chef of the Year winner Chris Pandel (The Bristol, Balena of B. Hospitality) prepared beets with foie gras and Chef Ce Bian (Roka Akor) served live scallops with uni in a yuzu truffle dressing.

The Chicago Classic Award was presented by Michelle and Tony Durpetti (Gene & Georgetti Restaurant) to Phil Stefani, who opened his first restaurant, Stefani’s, in 1980 in Lincoln Park. This award recognizes a lifetime of achievement in the city’s culinary scene.

Michelle described him as a man whose “heart and soul make this man and his family a success.” She added, “Phil is someone whose integrity, dedication to excellence and flair for unforgettable meals has made him the quintessential Chicago Classic.” (Gene & Georgetti Restaurant won this honor last year.)

Chef Fabio Viviani accepted the People’s Choice Award on behalf of his West Loop restaurant, Bar Siena.

The event was ChicagoVcentric down to the table decor, twoVfootVtall crystal candle holders etched with the city’s skyscrapers and lamps with silkVscreened shades of local landmarks. For dessert, a logo of the 100th anniversary of Navy Pier in 2016 was painted on a white chocolate wafer that was surrounded by raspberries and dark chocolate mousse. The Chicago Players provided dance

To close the program, Michele Schmidt (who is affected by C.F.) and her brother Michael Schmidt thanked everyone for their fundraising efforts following an appeal that brought in more than $159,000. Michael said, “Thank you for extending my time with my sister.”

A nightcap event followed that offered dessert samplings from a dozen pastry chefs including Meg Galus (BOKA), Amy Arnold (BomboBar), Sandra Holl (Floriole), JoVMarie Frigo (Nonna Santi’s Biscotti) and Scott Green (Travelle
Kitchen & Bar).

The gala raised more than $400,000 to support the foundation in its mission to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease affecting 30,000 children and adults in the
United States.

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