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This article by Euna Kwon Brossman was prepared for the May 25, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Progressive Food: Progressive Fundraising

‘Fundraising has become so competitive today," says Karen Laub, a

former nurse turned fundraising pro. "It’s harder to get people to

extend their time to put on a ballgown or tux and come to a long,

sit-down dinner. We needed something different, low-key, something

local and progressive – no black tie, easy to get to, where people

could feel like they could come straight from work. They have to eat,

anyway, right? Why not give them a premiere setting with premiere

chefs and a chance to socialize and do some networking with local

movers and shakers?"

Laub is co-chair of the first annual Chefs with Heart event in New

Jersey, to benefit the American Heart Association, Thursday, June 2,

at the Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana. Her husband, Dr. Glenn

W. Laub, chairman, department of cardiothoracic surgery for the Heart

Hospital at St. Francis Medical Center and a member of the American

Heart Association board of directors, is also a co-chair.

While the Chefs with Heart concept has been very successful in New

York for years, this is the first time it’s being done in New Jersey.

This gourmet walk-around event features tasting stations manned by the

creme de la creme of New Jersey’s culinary elite, including the chefs

from Jasna Polana; the Bernards Inn and Le Petit Chateau, both in

Bernardsville; Restaurant Serenade in Chatham; Tre Piani Ristorante in

Princeton; the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel in Cape May; and the

nationally renowned Ryland Inn in Whitehouse. In addition, guests will

enjoy fine wines, microbrews, a cafe bar, delicious pastries, and

chocolates; dance to a four-piece jazz band; and rub elbows with some

of Princeton’s elite movers and shakers.

"Everybody asks me what’s your favorite thing to cook. It’s like

asking a painter what’s your favorite color?" says Craig Shelton,

chef-owner of the Ryland Inn. It was the opportunity to blend his

mission of promoting healthy eating with the AHA’s mission of

supporting heart health awareness that led Shelton to sign on as the

event’s honorary chef chair. "It’s time to celebrate the unity of

purpose," says Shelton, who has opted to prepare a surprise dish for

the event. "It’s also nice to able to grin in the face of years of

scientific quackery that maligned high-end cuisine as bad for the

heart. What we’re finding is that the old country had it right, the

Mediterranean diet – based on reasonable portions, not too much

starch, and lots of protein and vegetables – is very healthy." He says

he actually loses weight when he eats the high-end food at his

restaurant. "The problem with the American diet is the convenience

foods, the transfats in chips and snack foods. That’s the real

killer."

Shelton is among the new breed of chef turned celebrity, his face the

first to grace the cover of Gourmet magazine. His restaurant, the

Ryland Inn, with bells and whistles that include a three-acre organic

garden and a helipad, was the first outside Manhattan to be awarded

four stars by the New York Times and was voted the number one

restaurant in New Jersey by Zagat Restaurant Review, New Jersey

Monthly, and Gourmet Magazine. Since taking over the Ryland Inn in

1991, Shelton has received critical acclaim and was selected as one of

20 chefs to appear on the public television’s series "Great Chefs of

the East."

The irony of Shelton’s career track, however, is that he never set out

to become a chef. In fact, he went to Yale University and graduated in

1982 with a double major in English and molecular biophysics and

biochemistry. "I discovered that M-B and B was not the best come-on to

meet girls, so I started an informal dining club. I put together

menus, got wine, and got Robin Winks, the master of Berkeley College,

to allow us to use the Swiss Room and do dinner parties." Shelton’s

college club would prove to be the perfect training ground for

starting his own restaurant, one of the last frontiers he felt in

which a young man could become CEO of his own company and call all the

shots. "You get to combine a love of the arts, business, and people.

You get to choose the aesthetics of the setting, you get to choose the

music and the food and the wine and the kind of experience people are

going to have."

Remarkably, Shelton, the son of an engineer who worked on the

navigation systems of submarines, never went to cooking school.

Instead, he took advantage of family connections in Europe to work in

restaurants after graduating. It helped that he had dual

French-American citizenship thanks to his French mother, even though

he was born in Maine. Says Shleton: "My mother’s father and mother

owned a restaurant in Cognac, France, so I had spent lots of summers

while growing up eating fine food. My uncles and aunts had bottles of

wine in the cellar, the kind you would have to blow the dust off when

you brought them up. So I was introduced at a very young age to the

glory of these bottles and fine food." He says his mother also was an

excellent cook.

Shelton ended up training with many of the finest chefs of Europe.

"It’s like Joe Torre saying, ‘I’d like to take your son out of

baseball college and work with the New York Yankees.’ Only a handful

of cooking school graduates will get to work with the superstar chefs

of Europe." While his science background comes in handy in the kitchen

with regard to temperatures and the mixing of, say, protein and starch

molecules, Shelton maintains that his best training to be a chef and

businessman was the strong liberal arts grounding he received at Yale.

"English literature, history, art history, science, they are the

sources for creativity and leadership and the best foundation for a

chef."

When it came time to open a restaurant, he looked for a place where he

could find ingredients as fresh as the ones in France. "I needed a

place where we could organically grow our vegetables. We didn’t pick

New Jersey by default. We picked it as our first choice. Not only are

the soil and climate similar to Burgundy, France, the lifestyle here

is enviable in the extreme. We also have the finest schools on earth."

His wife, Isabelle, is co-owner of the restaurant. Their daughter,

Olivia, is 15; son William, who Shelton says bows to peer pressure and

will only eat "white foods," is 6; and 11-month-old Juliette, who,

with only eight teeth, already has a sophisticated palate that runs to

toro, the tuna used in sushi. Shelton says he is amazed at just how

sophisticated most of the diners at his restaurant are. "We have

people who have traveled all over the world and eaten everywhere that

counts, and they are very appreciative of our food."

Scott Cutaneo, chef-proprietor of Le Petit Chateau in Bernardsville,

is also appreciative of the kind of clientele that comes to eat at his

restaurant in the heart of Somerset County’s horse country. "We know

they have the income to eat anywhere in the world, and when they

choose us, I’m always honored," says Cutaneo, who is accustomed to

cooking for the world’s elite, including heads of state, top

executives, and political figures. He recently did an event for Rupert

Murdoch, one of the world’s richest men. Cutaneo was chosen as a fine

dining consultant at the Olympic Games for the executive committees of

the top corporate Fortune 500 companies, and he recently cooked for

CEOs and business moguls gathered at the Masters golf tournament in

Georgia.

For the Chefs with Heart event, Cutaneo has chosen to make one of his

specialties, short-rib ravioli. "It’s for a good cause and it’s

cooking for special people," he says, adding that some of the event

planners came by the restaurant recently with one of the heart

survivors. "They’re great people. Sometimes the patients don’t have

the kind of money that’s needed to pay for treatment or to generate

awareness. That’s why I want to help. If everybody in the world would

give just a dollar, there are a few different causes that would be

taken care of forever."

Cutaneo notes that many New Jersey residents think they have to go to

New York for a fine dining experience when they can get just as good

and even better right in their own backyard. "People will spend more

money to go to New York. They have to pay for gas, the babysitter, the

tolls, and since most fine dining restaurants are in midtown, it’s

often $50 just to park the car. It’s frustrating to see them go to get

that subliminal experience of the skyscrapers, when they can get a lot

more personal attention right here in New Jersey. After a meal I’ll go

out to the guests and ask, ‘How is everything?’ It’s not just interest

in the quality of the food but the quality of the experience."

Cutaneo says another challenge for New Jersey restaurant owners is the

recent spate of corporate malfeasance that’s made news headlines and

curbed a lot of corporate wining and dining activity. He also cites

the recent Supreme Court vote that allows wineries to sell their

products directly online to consumers in some states, cutting out the

middle man. While the ruling will mostly hurt liquor stores, Cutaneo

predicts it may also affect restaurants when patrons look at the wine

list and find the prices expensive by comparison.

Cutaneo, 36, grew up in Staten Island and went to St. Peter’s Boys

High School, then Boston University. He fell in love with cooking the

summer between his freshman and sophomore years. "I had what was

called a front-of-the-house externship at the Royal Windsor Hotel in

Belgium, more on the business end. But I quickly abandoned that and

went into the kitchen. I was a go-getter, sometimes to the point of

being a pain in the neck. I wanted to learn, keep moving up, I was

impatient." He went back to BU and graduated in 1989, finishing

college in two-and-a-half years with a four-year degree in business by

taking eight to ten classes a semester. And on top of that took side

jobs cooking.

He was able to get paying jobs in Europe because, like Shelton, he has

has dual citizenship, in his case Irish-American. "I got to work with

Jan Raven, one of the top chefs in Europe, so I was privy to some of

the most interesting new plates on the continent," Cutaneo says. After

college he went to work for the Marriott Marquis Corporation in New

York as a purchaser, handling food and wine and managing a $25 million

a year growth business. But his true love was in the kitchen.

He trained in Holland and Paris and worked in two Michelin three-star

establishments, including L’Espadon at the Ritz in Paris. In 1996,

after working at Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan, Cutaneo signed on as

Le Petit Chateau’s new chef. He became owner a few months later and

started collecting four-star reviews. He also won repeated listings in

Charles Dale’s "The Chefs’ Guide to America’s Best Restaurants." This

past fall Le Petit Chateau was chosen as one of the six best French

restaurants in the country on the TVFN show "The Best Of," hosted by

Jill Cordes and Marc Silverstein.

Cutaneo says the French approach to food is a healthy one because it’s

not just about the quality of the food, the freshest and finest

ingredients possible; it’s also about portion size. "The French are

happy with an appetizer, an entree, and dessert. Americans are all

about buffets, I need to be full, I need a lot of food, and the whole

bigger is better super-size thing. The French look to savor the

sublime experience as opposed to looking for the best value." That,

compounded with vigor for physical activity, is why most French people

are able to eat so well and not gain weight. "The public

transportation system in France isn’t very good. They don’t take

subways, and there are not a lot of taxis so you have to walk and

Paris is so beautiful anyway."

He loves to get up in the morning and go to work. As the father of

12-year-old twin boys, Cutaneo hopes to inculcate a strong work ethic

in them at an early age. "They’ll both work in the restaurant whether

they like it or not," he says with a laugh.

Chefs with Heart will include a silent auction. Items up for bid

include a dinner party for 12 at a private home by Craig Shelton and a

team from the Ryland Inn. That package has a minimum bid of $10,000.

Other auction items include a Jasna Polana golf package for four with

dinner and an overnight stay, a ladies lunch in a private room at the

Lawrenceville Inn, a champagne picnic brunch for four at Rats at

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, a private wine tasting and dinner

party with chef Jim Weaver at Tre Piani and a hometown tailgate

package with 10 tickets to a Princeton football game and a basket of

tailgate food that Weaver will help put together.

Karen Laub, who is chair of the Council on Hospital Auxiliaries for

the New Jersey Hospital Association and an NJHA board member, knows

something about heart disease as well. Her father had bypass surgery,

performed by her husband, Glenn, who also operated on his own uncle,

an athletic man in his 50s. "You wouldn’t have imagined that he would

suffer from heart disease," says Laub, who is also a past president of

the St. Francis Medical Center Auxiliary and sits on the foundation

board of the St. Francis Medical Center. "The reality is that with its

numbers, heart disease affects almost every family in America."

Proceeds from Chefs with Heart will benefit the American Heart

Association to support research and education. Cardiovascular diseases

and stroke are the nation’s number one and number three killers,

claiming nearly 930,000 American lives annually. The American Heart

Association serves a population of close to 8.6 million people in New

Jersey’s 21 counties.

Says Laub of the event: "It’s a wonderful package of culinary

offerings right here in our own backyard coming together in one

incredible venue and the chance to take something home as well. It’s

the opportunity to experience some of the finest food in the state and

to meet the chefs personally." Dine, drink, dance, and drum up money

for an important cause – an event guaranteed to do the heart good.

— Euna Kwon Brossman

Chefs with Heart, to benefit the American Heart Association, Thursday,

June 2, 6 to 10 p.m., the Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana,

Princeton. $150. 856-546-5600.


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