Food and wine dinners that gather together noted restaurant chefs in support of worthwhile causes are nothing new, especially not along the Route 1 corridor. But the evening to benefit the Parkinson Alliance that will take place at Eno Terra in Kingston on Sunday, March 6, is remarkable in many regards, beyond bringing to our area two of the brightest stars in the celebrity-chef firmament.
Joining Chris Albrecht, who is executive chef for the Terra Momo Restaurant Group (which includes Eno Terra, Mediterra, Teresa Caffe, and Witherspoon Bread Company), will be former colleagues from his days working at New York’s acclaimed Gramercy Tavern. They are Jonathan Benno, now at the helm of the new Lincoln restaurant at Lincoln Center, and who was previously at Per Se, and Claudia Fleming, named James Beard Pastry Chef of the Year in 2000, and who now owns and operates North Fork Table and Inn in Southold, NY, with her husband, Gerry Hayden.
For the event, the three chefs will cook up a farm-to-table dinner in the Eno Terra kitchen, kicking things off with a VIP reception at 3 p.m., segueing into cocktails at 4:30 p.m., and finishing with a five-course dinner, with wine pairings, starting at 5 p.m. Ticket price is $200 for cocktails and dinner; $350 if you add in the VIP reception. (Both prices include tax and gratuity.) The trio will circulate throughout all.
One hundred percent of the proceeds will go directly to research on Parkinson’s disease. That percentage is claimed by many such events, but the thought and generosity behind making sure that number is real and meaningful are quite impressive, as I found out in a recent phone conversation with Albrecht. The chef began by pointing out that the actual cost of the dinner is $80. “The other $120 goes to research. We all want to make sure there is no hesitancy on the part of our guests to participate; we want to give them confidence about their contribution. Also, we want them to know that the dinner is not about excess; it’s about taking what the land gives you and not being over-the-top.”
The beneficiary, the Kingston-based Parkinson Alliance, has a matching-funds program from The Tuchman Foundation, which is also headquartered in Kingston, thus making this a triply local affair.
Also helping keep expenses low is the fact that restaurateurs Carlo and Raoul Momo are donating their restaurant and the food, and they arranged for the wines to be donated by Wines of Chile. The chefs are contributing their time and expertise. Still, Albrecht says, the Momo brothers were sensitive to how the event would be perceived. “It’s interesting how they both provide different viewpoints. Raoul is very conscious of our guests’ perceptions, about cost in particular. Carlo has similar sensibilities, but also is focused on the good the event can do. What’s great is that they have assembled a team that isn’t afraid to set forth ideas — good, misguided, whatever. We have the freedom to put them out there and not fear being ridiculed or shot down.”
I ask Albrecht about how the event took shape within the Terra Momo group. “We get lots of requests to raise funds, but often it’s hard to follow the trail to the good that the effort actually achieves. We have found that the payback [to the cause] can be greater if we host the event ourselves.” Beyond that, he says, they look to the immediate community to see what the needs are. “The Parkinson Alliance’s being based right here in Kingston is important,” he says. That the Alliance has raised over $20 million dollars for research since 1999 also impressed them. Yet, Albrecht says, there was still another, more personal consideration: among the extended Terra Momo family is someone with Parkinson’s. “When you’re near someone who is suffering the effects of a disease, you want to help that much more,” he says. “He’s not the whole reason, but when you can connect a person with the reason to raise funds, it can’t help but affect what you’ll do, the sacrifices you’ll make.”
While brainstorming ideas for what shape the event would take, Albrecht says the Terra Momo team confronted their limitations. “We are local chefs with a local following,” he says. “But we wanted to do something bigger than just us; we wanted to draw on bigger audiences.” And so he thought of his former colleagues, Claudia Fleming and Jonathan Benno, who worked with him under Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern back in the day. “These are chefs who have followings in their own right, and chefs that I not only worked with, but have a personal relationship with,” he says. It was the chance to personally reconnect in the kitchen that he stressed when he approached each of them, he says, because “when you combine personal relations with a cause, the result is that much stronger. All three of us worked within five feet of each other for years at Gramercy Tavern. All it took was a phone call. Claudia said, ‘If Chris wants to do it, I’ll do it.’ Jon was immediately positive, but just had to work out some details with his busy schedule, and then was onboard.”
Benno echoes Albrecht’s perspective. “In this business we are always being asked to donate one thing or another,” he writes in an E-mail. “But rarely does that come with as much satisfaction as this event. The opportunity to be back in the kitchen with Claudia and Chris, and in a community like Princeton, is the ideal combination of friends and occasion. Supporting the Parkinson Alliance and its research is the right choice, today and for generations to come.”
The fine points of the menu were still being settled at press time, but Albrecht is in charge of the hors d’oeuvres, the first course, and the entree. “Jon will do pasta and fish — he’s incredibly strong with fish — and his pasta is outstanding,” Albrecht says. “Claudia, of course, will do dessert. The fun thing, too, is that there’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment when you’re working as a team and feeling that passion and drive in yourself. It’s a terrific feeling.”
Eno Terra’s Evening to Benefit the Parkinson Alliance, Eno Terra Restaurant, 4484 Route 27, Kingston. Sunday, March 6, 4:30 p.m. (VIP reception at 3 p.m.). $200 (including tax and gratuity) for cocktails and dinner; $350 o add on VIP reception. For reservations, phone the Parkinson Alliance at 609-688-0870 or Eno Terra at 609-497-1777.