Sunday, October 4 , 2015, 6:13 pm | Partly Cloudy 59º

Chefs Cook Up a Magical Evening on Behalf of Channel Islands YMCA Youth & Family Services

15th Annual ‘Reaching for Stars’ benefit serves up a scrumptious taste of the town, compliments of Santa Barbara’s star chefs

Channel Islands YMCA Youth & Family Services executive director Lynn Karlson, left, with honorary chair Bob Bryant and wife Patty, and Vincent Vanhecke from the The Valley Club of Montecito, who was instrumental in starting the “Reaching for Stars” fundraiser event and organizing this year’s festivities.
Channel Islands YMCA Youth & Family Services executive director Lynn Karlson, left, with honorary chair Bob Bryant and wife Patty, and Vincent Vanhecke from the The Valley Club of Montecito, who was instrumental in starting the “Reaching for Stars” fundraiser event and organizing this year’s festivities.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety | updated logo |

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The tastes of the town greeted a large crowd of eager diners on a recent evening at Montecito Country Club. The guests enjoyed a sumptuous meal prepared by some of the finest chefs in Santa Barbara at the 15th Annual “Reaching for Stars” fundraiser benefiting YMCA Youth & Family Services.

The event’s theme of “Together We Can Do So Much More” served a dual purpose in exciting the palate of supporters and helping Santa Barbara County teenagers reach their full potential, as Youth and Family Services YMCA is an independently managed and funded branch of the Channel Islands YMCA.

“This event started 15 years ago with some generous chefs and a handful of passionate volunteers who wanted to do something meaningful to raise funds to support young people in need,” explained Lynn Karlson, executive director of Youth and Family Services YMCA.

A scenic ocean view from the lobby at the club greeted guests as servers passed delicious hors d’oeuvres and wines to begin the evening, which included exciting and informative chef demonstrations.

Karlson began the program by thanking the crowd and chefs for their generosity.

“Our sponsors are a vital source of support for all of the children and young people we work with at YFS,” Karlson said. “And together with tonight’s remarkable chefs they make this evening special for all of us.”

As the evening progressed, a heavenly meal prepared by the area’s best chefs was served — pleasing even the most finicky palates. Braised baby octopus cacciatore, quenelle of sole with lobster sauce, black trumpet crusted striploin, plum-braised Wagyu beef cheek and bourbon-glazed oxtail were just part of the dining menu.

The main cause of the night was the Channel Islands branch of Youth & Family Services programs, which provide social services for pre-teens, teens and young adults, including My Home, the Isla Vista Teen Center and Noah’s Anchorage Youth Crisis Shelter. In 2013, YFA programs supported 560 young people between the ages of 10 and 23.

A video presentation elaborated on the affect that these important programs have for the community, featuring My Home, a partnership with the City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority that provides supportive housing and services to homeless and former foster youth, ages 18 to 21.

Also featured was a segment on Noah’s Anchorage and its services for homeless, runaway or at-risk youth. The program provides a warm bed, hot meals and 24-hour access to counseling.

Closing out the seven-minute video was a piece on the Isla Vista Teen Center for youth in grades six through 12, with bilingual and bicultural after-school services that include tutoring, field trips and leadership training. The video also drew attention to the generosity of Claudia and Ed St. George, who have pledged to build a new building to replace the 50-year-old dilapidated facilities that currently occupy the space.

Following the video, Karlson introduced “a truly terrific young man from the Isla Vista Teen Center,” Francisco Lagara, who shared some of his personal experiences with the YMCA.

“I have been a member of the Isla Vista Teen Center for almost three years and I feel that it has had a great impact on my attitude toward school, academics and in my personal life,” he said.

Lagara elaborated on the effect the Teen Center has had on not just him but his attitude toward other youth in the program.

“As I got to meet the other kids, I felt like I could make a difference in someone’s life by helping through the leadership program activities,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of the facility and how, he said, he is “grateful for finding the teen center when I did, otherwise I would have continued down the same self-destructive path.”

Lagara also shared his amazement at how far he has grown while participating in the program.

“Frankly, I’m very shocked I’m graduating from Dos Pueblos High School and I am attending SBCC this fall,” he said. “If you would have told me three years ago that I would be here speaking in front of you all, I would have said, ‘Yeah, right,’ but I’m very happy to be here and to be a part of the Isla Vista Teen Center.”

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.

The impressive list of star chefs included Mari Bartoli, private chef; Michael Blackwell, Montecito Country Club; Randy Bublitz, Santa Barbara City College School of Culinary Arts; Alessandro Cartumini, Four Seasons Biltmore; Christine Dahl-Hutchings, Christine Dahl Pastries; Jessica Foster, Jessica Foster Confections; Charlie Fredericks, SBCC School of Culinary Arts; Brandon Hughes, Wine Cask and Intermezzo; Michael Hutchings, Michael’s Catering; Greg Murphy, bouchon; Brian Parks, Georgia’s Smokehouse; Stephane Rapp, SBCC School of Culinary Arts; Charlie Rushton, private chef; Don “Skip” Skipworth, private chef; James Sly, Sly’s; students at SBCC School of Culinary Arts; Mossin Sugich, Santa Barbara Yacht Club; and Vincent Vanhecke of The Valley Club of Montecito, who also orchestrated the event.

YFS Advisory Committee members Bob Bryant and Anne Towbes were the honorary chairs for the 15th annual event.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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