Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 | 1 a.m.
The all-star chefs lineup is still in awe from the success that they had with the glittering dinner fundraiser Chefs to the Max for still-hospitalized Las Vegas food critic Max Jacobson.
One hundred guests paid $1,000 apiece and with incredible items in a live and silent auction raised more than $275,000 to help defray Max’s rising medical costs since the accident two days before Christmas when he was mowed down by a driver and sustained severe brain trauma.
“It’s amazing. We’re thrilled with what we were able to raise in such a short period of time. We pulled this off in less than three weeks,” chef Rick Moonen told me at his Rx Boiler Room in Mandalay Place, where he organized and hosted the eight-course spectacular with more than 14 top chefs Sunday night.
It’s the first of a hoped-for series to assist the longtime food writer who remains in critical condition. The star chefs volunteered their kitchen time and staffs, and all of the food and wine was donated (Southern Wine & Spirits, Granello Bakery, Illy), so 100 percent of the money raised went to pay medical bills.
Max’s sister Toni added: “It’s made me change my entire perspective on Las Vegas. I’m in love with everyone in this city right now for helping my little brother.”
The culinary kings and queens included Megan Bringas, Kim Canteenwalla, Shirley Chung, Johnny Church, Saipin Chutima, Barry Dakake, Susan Feniger, Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller, Thomas Keller, Grant MacPherson, Mary Sue Milliken, Rick Moonen, Bradley Ogden, Luciano Pellegrini, Vincent Pilon, Pino Posteraro, Vincent Pouessel, Joey Romano, Megan Romano, Angelo Sosa and David Walzog.
Our thanks to contributing photographers Erik Kabik of Retna for his photo gallery and Sabin Orr for two additional photos from the culinary masterpiece.
Rick, who co-hosted with N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms genius Barry Dakake, added: “I am so happy. I am on top of the world. I’ve worked many events in my 35-year career but never had a lineup of this stature for a single event. For one dinner to have that turnout is simply miraculous.
“The chefs gave 100 percent with enthusiastic exuberance, and the guests went out of their minds with the dishes they created. This exceeded even my highest expectations. I have never met finer people than those we had in our kitchen. This was way beyond that certain camaraderie that exists among chefs being of a supportive nature anyway. This was way beyond that.
“No question that you had the mega-stars of the culinary world all working crammed together in a kitchen, but nobody was a pain in the ass. There was no competitiveness. They just joined together to make something work. Everything ran smoothly in the kitchen. The chefs were jazzing each other, but not one of them had a problem. They are my heroes. I woke up in total disbelief — an amazing journey I never dreamed we’d really achieve, and now it is a truly surreal memory. We are all friends for life now.
“Everybody had the attitude nobody should ever be left behind. Like a fallen soldier, nobody leaves one on the field. Nobody ever said, “What’s in it for me?” It was amazing. Even America’s No. 1 chef Thomas Keller walked into the restaurant serving plates to help out after he’d cooked his meal.”
Additionally, Rick challenged Bobby Flay to a “Kampachi Throwdown.” Rick prepared a chili-seared Kona kampachi with avocado, ruby red grapefruit and yuzu butter sauce, and Bobby prepared a Kona kampachi with Korean red pepper-tangerine glaze with pickled Brussels sprouts relish and squab egg. Guests voted, and Rick was declared the winner.
Bobby commented: “It was a pleasure to cook alongside such amazing talent in such a heartfelt, super-delicious event. Of course we put out too much food, but that’s what we do. People who wear white for a living show their love and affection with flavor and abundance. I could not have been prouder to chip in. Go, Las Vegas! Great hustle!”
Chef Kim Canteenwalla said: “It was great to see the community come together; it showed great caring and a giving spirit.”
Hubert Keller added: “Words can’t express the finesse and accomplishment of the event. Max has been a friend over the last 25 years, and this was an amazing and unique experience.”
Said Poppy Den’s “Top Chef” Angelo Sosa: “It was an honor to participate in such a great and touching time.”
Border Grill’s Susan Feniger continued: “This was a very moving evening with an incredible miracle pulled off. People were so generous and incredible.”
Her restaurant partner Mary Sue Milliken added: “It was both amazing and impressive, and I was so proud to be a tiny part of what was put together.”
Vincent Pouessel may have summed it up best: “Max would have loved this meal.”
The welcome champagne reception boasted no less than six hors d’oeuvres stations manned by “Top Chef” NOLA finalist Shirley Chung, David Walzog, Johnny Church, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. The two opening amuse were prepared by Angela Sosa and Vincent Pouessel.
Then followed seven courses each with two variations of the same dish. Thomas Keller and Saipin Chutima teamed for the two versions of squab and chicken. There were dark chocolate bonbons for guests to take home with them after the five-hour feast.
I was honored to help a little with the planning of the event and managed, just like Thomas Keller, to race back from Mexico in time to conduct the spirited auction with Elizabeth Blau, Larry Ruvo and George Maloof leading the boisterous bidding on trips to California wine country and exclusive at-home dinners with individual chefs. Danny Greenspun and I had the winning bids for the two jacket-and-apron sets autographed by all the chefs.
Barry Dakake, who teamed with Kim Canteenwalla for two versions of East Coast sea scallops, summed it up best: “We may be called Sin City by the rest of the world, but tonight there were real angels here who stepped up to help one of our fallen.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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