Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Chefs cook up mouth-watering menu to raise money for The Community Table

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    Chefs Luke Zahm, left, co-owner of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua, and Amy Huo, executive chef of The Informalist in Eau Claire, place the final touches on their meals before handing them out on Thursday for a fundraiser at The Community Table in Eau Claire. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Matthew Seckora
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    Chef Luke Zahm, center, shows volunteers how to prep his Great River Milling Company Black Walnut Tamale prior to a Community Table fundraiser on Thursday in Eau Claire. The tamale included: Peter’s Farm pork belly, organic pickled radish, Driftess organic salsa roja and hidden springs creamery queso. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Matthew Seckora
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    Amy Huo, executive chef of The Informalist in Eau Claire, salts her sweet potatoes prior to a Community Table fundraiser on Thursday in Eau Claire. The sweet potatoes included squash, cayenne curry, puffed wild rice and cranberry chutney. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Matthew Seckora
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Lisa Blazek was first in line for a meal on Thursday night at The Community Table, though she wasn’t there for the nonprofit’s regular free meal. She scooped up a tray, her eyes scoping out the array of colorful, freshly prepared cuisine, and carried it to a nearby table.

“Wow,” Blazek said, peeling parchment paper off Lake Elfie whitefish cooked with sweet potatoes, kalamata olives, butter, oyster mushrooms, saffron, thyme and chili. “Oh my. This just looks delicious.”

She speared a bite of the fish with her fork and popped it in her mouth, her eyes widening as she chewed. “It’s phenomenal.”

Blazek was one of 200 people to buy a ticket for The Community Table’s fundraiser dinner, where guests walked through a line and ate off cafeteria trays like any typical guest would at the nonprofit that serves hot meals every day to anyone in need. Only this time, celebrated chefs Amy Huo and Luke Zahm cooked the meal, farm-to-table style.

Huo is the executive chef of The Informalist, and Zahm co-owns Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. Zahm — a James Beard Award-nominated chef — and Huo met through social media and decided to collaborate for a cause. 

Menu items included the whitefish; tri-colored sweet potatoes with squash, cayenne curry, puffed wild rice and cranberry chutney; biscuit-topped beef bourguignon with chive gremolata and pickled radish salad; and tamales with pork belly, pickled radish, salsa roja and queso.

“I’m not sure I know what I’m eating, but it’s good,” said Benjamin Proctor, adding, “I’d do anything to support this group.”

As a former board member for The Community Table, consistent volunteer and Eau Claire County’s community service coordinator, Blazek has a lot of experience working with the nonprofit.

The difference between Thursday’s dinner and other The Community Table fundraising strategies, Blazek said, is in its similarities to a regular day at the nonprofit.

“It’s here in the building,” Blazek said. “We’re walking through the lines.”

“If you come here for a regular meal, it’s very much like this,” she added, gesturing around the room. Along the arc of her sweeping hand, donors carrying cafeteria trays laden with freshly prepared cuisine mingled at tables spread evenly around the room.

Earlier that day, about 120 guests showed up to take advantage of the daily meal the nonprofit normally serves, said Michelle Koehn, The Community Table’s executive director.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better turnout,” Koehn said, smiling as she placed a palm to her cheek. “It’s an incredible testament to our community. I was floored.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,lauren.french@ecpc.com, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter


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