My life in food service started when I was in the womb. I mean it. My mom retired a few years ago after 34 years with Sysco, the nation's largest food service distributor. Between my chaotic sports schedule and her working full time, our family ate out at least a few times a week.
My parents love telling the story of a spoiled eight year old (me) being dragged into a nice restaurant in Washington D.C. After kicking and screaming and at least one kiddie cocktail, I nonchalantly rattled off my order to a bewildered server, "I'll have the Caesar salad and baked brie."
I waited tables all throughout college at a number of established restaurants in Phoenix. Having that experience made the thought of returning to that industry once I quit my job on Madison Avenue far less scary.
My first restaurant job in New York City was at Blue Water Grill. A very popular seafood restaurant and a major success for the BR Guest Restaurant Group. It was like boot camp for young twenty-somethings completely unsure of what they "really wanted to do." It was and still is a large volume restaurant. I think we had over 50 servers at the time. It was like Melrose Place minus the pool and ten times the cast members.
After nearly 3 1/2 years of slinging Chilean Sea Bass, making life long friends and finding a business partner, it was time to make a change. On one of my last days at BWG I had our executive chef run a report on my time there. Wait for it, wait for it. I waited on over 24,000 people and did over 1.3 million dollars in sales!
If Blue Water Grill was boot camp, I was happy to arrive at Hearth Restaurant, an independently owned and operated successful hot spot in the East Village. I would now be working with the best in the business. The Navy Seals of hospitality, maybe?
It was at Hearth that I truly learned what great food and wine can really do to a person. The professionalism, creativity, and passion flowed throughout the restaurant from bartenders to baristas. Everyone truly cared about their role in what was a five hour performance every evening. My appetite and knowledge for the entire dining experience grew every night.
My symptoms actually started a few months before I left Hearth to move to Chicago. A year later my diagnosis changed everything. When friends and family scrambled to help in any way possible, my favorite fundraising event was born. This year will mark the fourth annual NYC Ultimate Family Dinner.
Every non-profit seems to host a gala or a golf tournament. People know what to expect when they attend a fundraiser, typically it's rubbery chicken and steamed vegetables. Let's just say this ain't your typical fundraising fare. We have five of NYC's premiere chefs all under the same roof, doing what they do best!
The intimacy of this event is unmatched. Each chef prepares a course and speaks to those attending about the story behind the dish. As if that wasn't enough, Hearth's wine gurus pair each course with the best grape juice on the planet. This year's chefs are:
This year's event will have an extra special amount of love and support. In the three previous years, my co-host has been the NYC great, Chef Gerry Hayden who was fighting the same disease. Not only was he a brother in arms, his beautiful and talented wife is Chef Claudia Flemming, the evening's pastry chef.
Sadly, Hayden passed away earlier this month. I hope his friends and former colleagues will come to celebrate his life with us on September 28th. This event is truly like no other. It's as if you're best friends and the best food and wine are all wrapped up in a three-hour bear hug!
Seating is limited; tickets can be purchased at http://ow.ly/Sivf8