Yesterday, June 8, was a beautiful Sunday overlooking the ocean from the patio at the Montage Laguna Beach as they hosted the Taste of the Nation Laguna Beach 2014. The charity event, held for the Share Our Strength/No Child Hungry program, provided a way for a multitude of chefs, wineries and local growers to give back to the community. It also gave guests at the event a chance to eat some delicious food, enjoy lots of excellent wine and beer, all the while supporting their community too.
As Chef Craig Strong, the Executive Chef for the Montage Studio restaurant exclusively told the Examiner, “I think it's easy to have a good time when you've got good weather, the Pacific Ocean at your back and eight of the best chefs from around the country. Wineries that are fabulous wineries and produce from our local farmers markets coming down, all showcasing healthy, good signature dishes which you'd never be able to do in one day on your own. We bring all the chefs here and you get to sample them in one location for a great cause, and it's a lot of fun! You've got live music, great food, great wines and a beautiful backdrop”.
Locally, celebrity Chef Ludo Lefevre, from Trois Mec and Ludo Bites in Los Angeles, came to create a delicious avocado sushi with a lime sauce for everyone. Chef Ludo talked briefly about the event and how important it was to him to help children that might have enough good, nutritious food to eat. “The children are our future”, Chef Ludo said. “We need to give them the best start that we can”. His avocado sushi was a perfect example of how to make a simple dish that is delicious, with more complexity than meets the eye.
From the Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa, Chef Alan Greeley put together a wonderful potato salad with a crawfish vinaigrette. Representing the Haven GastroPub in Old Towne Orange, Greg Daniels made a delicious paté on toast for guests to enjoy while partner Wil Dee poured several excellent local micro-brews. Also adding to the celebrity chef lineup was David Coleman, of Chianina Steakhouse in Long Beach.
Coming in from Miami was Nina Compton, from the renowned restaurant Scarpetta in the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami. As she talked to the Examiner, her smile lit up the patio as she said how important this was to her. “You can see how important is for children to get good meals. There is nothing worse for a child than to be hungry”, she said. “It changes everything in their life when they don't have to worry about food”.
The Montage donated their Pastry Chef, Lee Smith, to the cause. From right around the corner was Chef William Bradley of Addison in Corona del Mar. Making an appearance for the first time with a cayenne chocolate cake was Dara, the Bow Girl, the 12 year old cooking sensation from MasterChef Junior USA.
Chef Alan Wong had just flown in from Hawaii, where he owns several successful restaurants. “First of all, this is a beautiful hotel, a beautiful resort. The people are wonderful and the hospitality great. The cause is a worthy cause. I mean, No Kid Goes Hungry. We've got to think of this generation and the future of the next generation and be sustainable. The next generation of kids should be dear to everybody”.
Chef Wong made one of the most popular dishes of the day, his version of short ribs. “The short ribs are a simple dish. We soy-braise it, add some sake and some soy; and then I think what's different about this one is the relish of shiitake mushrooms, local mushrooms and peanuts. It's sort of an inspiration from my last trip to China”.
Brian Huskey, Executive Chef for the Formosa Cafe in Los Angeles, came with Vincent Jung, the third generation owner of the 75 year old cafe that is a mainstay of fine Chinese cuisine for many in the Hollywood studios that dot the landscape near it. His beef with Fresno chiles were a delicious choice, fresh with herb flavors and the Fresno chile adding just enough heat to wake the palate up.
The culinary mastermind behind the event was Chef Craig Strong, the Executive Chef of Studio at the Montage. “For the kids that need help with one of the basic needs that any chef would tell you is close to our heart, which is feeding people, if you're struggling with food, it pulls at a chef in a very tender way. Share Our Strength was an organization that caught our interest”.
Chef Strong has not only worked to present some fine dishes such as a grilled scallop with fresh sugar snap peas and edible “soil”, but has put his heart into helping to coordinate the event with the other Chefs and the Montage in general. This is an important event to him and you could tell he is very devoted to helping children in Orange County with having the proper amount of healthy food to eat.
Talking about his dish, Chef Strong said, “Being so close to the water, I like doing something that is seafood inspired. The produce that we get is from VR Green Farms which is down in San Clemente, grown by a farmer named Nick Romano. He picks and delivers the same day, he's super fresh. Sugar snap peas, scallops that are very sweet, and you'd think that scallops should be sweet in their taste”.
Chef Strong continued, “That's why I paired it with a spice, but in a savory way, the spice that I'm using is vanilla. I'm using a vanilla sauce, but there's nothing sweet in the sauce. The sweetness comes from the natural sugars in the sugar snap peas or the scallops. And then to put a salty aspect we made an 'olive soil'. You dip your scallop into what is essentially this olive powder that actually looks like soil and you get this combination in your mouth that is a lot of fun. It's a dish that's on our menu so if people want to enjoy it they can come to Studio and try it”.
Chef Strong talked about Share Our Strength to the Examiner. “About five years ago we were looking for some great organizations, a way to showcase Studio and a way to give back to the community. Share Our Strength was an organization that caught our interest. We thought, 'here we can make a difference of kids within our community that are going to be the future generation for Orange County, for Studio and Montage'”.
Chef Strong added, “For the kids that need help with one of the basic needs that any chef would tell you is close to our heart, which is feeding people, if you're struggling with food, it pulls at a chef in a very tender way. We thought, let's get involved with our community and give back to these people and we have such an amazing backdrop to do it in. We'll invite everyone to this big party and it will be Taste of the Nation Laguna Beach and that's how it got started. And here we are, four years down the road and it's grown in such a wonderful way that it just feels like the right fit”.
The day as envisioned by Judy Walker, Western Regional Director for Culinary Events for Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, was a big success for the community. There were some big winners from the silent auction as well as a live auction for various items such as a beautiful authentic longboard and a Chef's Table Dinner at the Montage's Studio restaurant. The bidding was so lively for the dinner that when it reached the $9,500 level, Chef Strong generously authorized that both high bidders could get a dinner. With that and other generous donations, the children were the real winners today.