Tasty Tapas and Top Chefs Santa Barbara

I was seated next to beautiful young girl at last night's "Reaching For Stars" benefit for Noah's Anchorage, which provides support services for homeless and at-risk youth. It turned out she was the keynote speaker, having come from foster care to Noah's Anchorage. She is a remarkable young woman, poised and confident despite the hardships she had to endure on her way to Noah's Anchorage which currently houses and supports her in her quest to complete her GED and go on to nursing school. Our eyes were shiny with tears as the audience stood to applaud her courage and resilience. It was a wonderful evening, orchestrated by Chef Vincent Vanhecke, who assembled eighteen of the top chefs in Santa Barbara to donate their time creating a fabulous multi-course dinner (see full list of restaurants and caters represented). Chef Vincent downplayed the hard work he did to make it a sold-out success, saying "With so many chefs, there was a bit of friendly competition to see who could make the best dish, it was fun!" The chefs pulled out all the stops to wow the attendees, here's the menu :
Hors d'oeuvres 
Pollo Adobo Potstickers
Caprese Brochette
Arancini DiRiso Marinara
Italian Sausage and Grilled Artichoke Tart
 Lucas & Lewellen Brut Sparkling Wine
Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
Cottonwood Canyon Estate Chardonnay
Rusack Syrah
Chefs: Vincent Vanhecke, Don Skipworth, Mari Bartoli and Charlie Rushton

First Course

"Three Salmon Walked Into A Slaw" [three salmon/slaw interpretations]
Rusack Sauvignon Blanc
Fess Parker Chardonnay

Chefs: John Downey, Randy Bublitz, Alex Castillo
Second Course
Local Seafood Trio
Ridgeback Shrimp Ceviche with Tangerines, Limes and Micro Cilantro
Gazpacho with Halibut Tartar and Cerignola Olives
Grilled Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Fennel Salad
Summerland Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
Chefs: Brian Parks, Eric Widmer, John Trotta
Main Course

Braised Lamb Shoulder and Rosemary-Mint Char-Grilled Rack of Lamb
White Bean and Chard Ragout
[vegetarian option: a lovely, lemony risotto with micro-greens]
Zaca Mesa Syrah
Fess Parker Syrah
Lucas & Lewellen Merlot
Chefs: Brandon Hughes, John Pettitt, Jeff Magown
Trio of Desserts

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake
Raspberry Dacquoise
Meyer Lemon Tart

Chefs: Christine Dahl-Hutchings, James Sly, Michael Hutchings

Honestly, ALL the dishes were delicious, but if I had to highlight a few I would say the salmon dish was a stand-out because of the way the three preparations of salmon and slaw were so different in flavor and texture, yet complimentary: one was a lightly battered soft salmon chunk on a crispy slice of toast, the next, a salmon ceviche spiced with chili and cilantro with cool, creamy, contrasting avocado, and the last, a spring roll with the salmon and slaw wrapped inside. The ingenious plating had a sheet of black nori as the base which (though my photo is not the best) made a dramatic contrast with the white plate and colorful food. The Rusack and Zaca Mesa Syrah were excellent and the Raspberry Dacquiose and Meyer Lemon Tart were divine--delicately flavored and light on the palate--a perfect end to an extraordinary meal. We had the chance to chat with Chef Stephane Rapp of the SBCC School of Culinary Arts and student Pegeen (winner of the SBCC "Edible Books") who were not credited on the menu, but came to give a hand in the kitchen. Kudos to all!

Wine Pairing Recipe
Eggplant Tapas:
4 small Japanese eggplant
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. minced onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili flakes
4 Tbsp. minced red bell pepper
1 egg
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/8 tsp. black pepper
spray olive oil
Select Japanese eggplants rather than the larger traditional eggplants as there size is better for tapas and their skin softer when cooked. Cut the ends off the eggplant and remove the core, using an apple corer. Hold a cored eggplant in the palm of one hand and sprinkle salt inside using the other hand. Cover the top end with your other palm and shake the salt inside to coat the interior of the eggplant. Shake out excess salt and put the eggplants on end on paper towels to drain for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sautee the onion, garlic, bell pepper, cumin and chili flakes in oil until the onion is translucent. Set aside to cool. In a mixing bowl, stir the egg, then mix in the ground beef, bread crumbs, black pepper and the onion/garlic mixture. With a sharp knife, make lengthwise slits in the eggplants, starting one inch from one end and ending an inch before the other. Carefully stuff 1/4 of the meat mixture into each eggplant. Place in an oiled baking dish. Spray the eggplants with oil, cover and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees and the meat is well-cooked.
Serves 4.

Tomato Sauce:
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili flakes
2 1/2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. paprika
1/8 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, saute the onion, garlic and chili in the oil until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, paprika and red wine and simmer over medium low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pair this tapas recipe with a rich red from Spain, such as the 2009 Tarima Monastrell or 2009 Venta Morales Tempranillo.

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