The stars were shining bright, spirits were flying high and plates were warm on a brisk and rainy night at the recent “Reaching for Stars” 2012 dinner benefiting Youth & Family Services YMCA held at the beautiful Rockwood Santa Barbara Women’s Club.
Champagne and wine from Gainey Vineyards kicked off the festivities as guests mingled among mock-style gaming at blackjack and roulette tables and enjoyed delectable hors d’oeuvres with a taste of Asia served up by Santa Barbara City College School of Culinary Arts students joined by Randy Bublitz, Stephane Rapp and Vincent Vanhecke from The Valley Club of Montecito.
Next, Joe Sullivan, Youth & Family Services board chairman, welcomed attendees and thanked the sponsors for their generosity with special words of gratitude to staff and fellow board members for another successful Reaching for Stars event.
Following the introduction, guests were treated to a delicious multi-course meal prepared by a team of chefs under Vanhecke’s leadership.
“My first year was 2000 and we had four chefs participating at that point — one chef per course,” Vanhecke said. “And as the years developed, more and more chefs were interested in participating and now we have 18 chefs, plus we have 36 Santa Barbara City College students.”
For this year’s event, Vanhecke said he was immensely excited about the opportunity to include a number of young people from the SBCC culinary program on the chef’s team.
“This year, a big difference is we have a lot more of the City College kids participating. And what’s really cool for me is that it’s kids at school helping kids in the community,” he said. “So it’s young people helping young people. And the 18 chefs are sort of sandwiched in there to help make it happen.”
The unique opportunity and value for students receiving the opportunity to assist the community while learning from leaders in the culinary community weren’t lost on the excited students participating in this year’s event.
“It’s not only a really great cause, but we’re working with some of the most talented chefs, and it’s also a great way for students to network themselves,” SBCC culinary arts student Sybille Kroemer said. “It’s just a real honor to be working with this class of talent.”
The first course began with trio of duck prosciutto-style, cold smoked duck breast and won ton cups from Alessandro Cartumini, Charlie Rushton and Michael Blackwell.
An equally scrumptious second course of seafood from Michael Hutchings, James Sly and Mossin Sugish included baked abalone, salmon soufflé and paddle fish caviar. And the entrée from Greg Murphy, Brandon Hughes and SBCC students served up tasty New York braised short ribs with crispy sweetbread.
As diners basked in the glow of five-star cuisine, Youth & Family Services Executive Director Lynn Karlson emphasized the importance of the Channel Islands branch of Youth & Family Services programs offered to pre-teens, teens and young adults.
Karlson also shared Vanhecke’s enthusiasm for community participation from the perspective of the dining room and looking into the kitchen.
“What’s so special about tonight is that this is really about community coming together to support kids, and it is amazing to me that these 18 chefs give not only their time and their talent but their resources,” she said. “They donate this dinner and it’s all to support some of the most vulnerable kids in our community. And that just doesn’t happen every day that some many people come together to make things happen for kids.
The items up for bid in the Super Silent Auction also emphasized the impact of Youth & Family Services by directly providing key services for those in need.
Some of the all-important items included “A Noah’s Anchorage Experience”, a package for homeless, runaway or at-risk youth that provides a warm bed, hot meals and 24-hour access to counseling; a “My Home Path to Independence” package for former homeless foster youth ages 18 to 21 that provides steps that create independence; and “An After-School Getaway at the Isla Vista Teen Center” for youth in grades six through 12, with after-school services that included tutoring, field trips and leadership training.
Special guest speakers Karla Romero and Kimberly Del Carmen shared words of gratitude for their life-changing experiences, as young people who’ve received needed support from Youth & Family Services outreach programs.
“My brother went when they first built the Isla Vista Teen Center, and he started taking me over there when he was babysitting me,” said 15-year old Romero from Dos Pueblos High School. “And around sixth grade is when I started going more often, and that’s when I started getting involved with leadership and drug and alcohol prevention classes.”
Del Carmen expressed her gratitude for one of the newer programs offered by Youth & Family Services — My Home, which provides at-risk youths a period of time, up to 18 months, for a steady home life and a chance to focus on a brighter future.
“This has helped me in a lot of ways. I now have a stable home, which helps a lot with school because now that you have your own space you can just focus on school,” said 20-year old Del Carmen, who studies communications at SBCC. “And they have an agreement with Santa Barbara Bank & Trust that helps set up savings accounts for us, and then by the time you leave you should have enough money to pay first and last month’s rent.”
According to Karlson, “40 percent of foster children become homeless within six months when they emancipate at age 18. The goal of My Home is to help prepare them for independence and end the cycle of homelessness.”
Following the guest speakers and program highlights was a raffle as plates of tasty warm raspberry phyllo cheesecake, chilled raspberry soufflé and crunch cake infused with raspberry tea and chocolate mousse were presented from Christine Dah, Eric Widmer and Jamie West.
The evening was complete when all the generous chefs who donated their time were invited on stage, forming a line of smiles in front of a well-deserved standing ovation from the satisfied crowd.
YMCA Youth & Family Services expresses thanks to a number of chefs, sponsors, wineries and local businesses for helping make “Reaching for Stars” 2012 a success.
» Star Chefs: Alessandro Cartumini (Four Seasons Biltmore), Brandon Hughes (Wine Cask), Brian Parks (Canary Hotel), Charlie Fredericks (SBCC) Charlie Rushton (Four Seasons Biltmore), Christine Dahl-Hutchings (Christine Dahl Pastries) Don Skipworth (Private Chef), Eric Widmer (La Cumbre Country Club), Greg Murphy (bouchon), James Sly (Sly’s), Jamie West (Private Chef), Mari Bartoli (Private Chef), Michael Blackwell (Montecito Country Club), Michael Hutchings (Michael’s Catering), Mossin Sugish (Blush), Randy Bublitz & Culinary Students (SBCC), Stephane Rapp (SBCC) and Vincent Vanhecke (The Valley Club).
» Event Sponsors: Steven and Marilyn Gutsche, and Venoco Inc.
» Individual Sponsors: USCB Student Affairs, Lynn & Roger Karlson and Ventura Rental Center.
Special thanks to Erin Taylor for centerpieces and flower displays courtesy of botanik and Mia Girard for graphic design.