Taste tests for a good cause | ParkRecord.com

Taste tests for a good cause

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

What does art have to do with food? According to local chef and restaurant owner Jean Louis Montecot, everything. "Food is art," he says. "As a chef, you put your own art into it, from the flavor to the look to the spices – all of it."

Arts-Kids, the local after-school youth-development program that teaches life skills through paint, clay and other mediums, has found a fundraiser that capitalizes on the concept of food as art.

Last year, the nonprofit organization hosted the inaugural "Step Up to the Plate" event under the umbrella of its annual "Paint the Town" fundraiser. The benefit was such a success that Nate Sears, this year’s event coordinator, says it may become Arts-Kids’ signature soiree.

For 2010, the Arts-Kids team is recreating the culinary magic and inviting the community to dig in. All seven of the local restaurants that participated last year, plus one new eatery, are returning to make supporters salivate.

Montecot says he was excited to once again have the opportunity to be involved with the fundraiser. "It was fun, and it’s good for the kids," he says. "It’s nice to keep young kids involved in this type of thing."

The second annual "Step Up to the Plate" will be held next Sunday, Feb. 28, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Swaner Eco Center. The community fundraiser will feature a small-plate competition between chefs from Butcher’s Chop House & Bar, the Goldener Hirsch Inn Restaurant, High West Distillery & Saloon, Jean Louis Restaurant, Maxwell’s East Coast Eatery, Shabu, Squatters Roadhouse Grill and Zoom.

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Each restaurant will set up a station where its chefs will present appetizer-size portions of dishes that do not appear on the establishment’s menu. Attendees will have the chance to sample morsels from each restaurant and vote on their favorite fare.

A judging panel consisting of KUTV contributing chef Bryan Woolley, Salt Lake Tribune food writer Kathy Stephenson, and freelance food writer Virginia Rainey will weigh in on the chefs’ creations.

At the end of the night, the winning teams will be presented with awards – one from the audience and one from the judges. Montecot, who won the audience award at last year’s event, says there is friendly competition among the chefs, but the thing that’s more important than winning is raising money for Arts-Kids. "My goal is to please all the local people who come out and enjoy the evening," he says.

The event will also feature live music by high-school instrumentalist Derrick Dymalski, a silent auction featuring items from local businesses and restaurants, and an opportunity drawing with three or four high-price items and gift packages.

Sears says this year’s fundraiser is especially important to keep Arts-Kids’ programs afloat. "Last fall and this spring, the Summit County program took a major hit," he said. "We still are in a position where we’re scaling back."

Arts-Kids strives to offer free after-school classes in all local elementary and middle schools, but the economic climate has forced the organization to significantly cut back. The spring session, which begins March 1, will be offered at five schools (McPolin Elementary, Parley’s Park Elementary, Jeremy Ranch Elementary, North Summit Elementary and Treasure Mountain International School) instead of the usual 11.

Sears says the organization has gone through a re-envisioning process over the course of the past year. One of its current goals is to partner with other local nonprofits in order to keep its programs alive. "We’re currently looking at ways to expand by offering our programs and services to other organizations," he says.

Proceeds from "Step Up to the Plate" will go directly toward funding the basic operating costs so that the program can resume in all 11 schools.

Tickets for the event can be purchased in advance for $30 at http://www.art-kids.org or at the door for $35. Admission includes taste tests for all eight restaurants, one drink ticket, and entrance into the silent auction and opportunity drawing. Sears encourages people to purchase tickets in advance, as he expects the event to sell out.

Kids who are interested in joining the Arts-Kids program should talk to their school counselors. Local artists who want to serve as guest instructors may call (435) 615-7878. For more information about Arts-Kids, log on to http://www.arts-kids.org .