Convivo Restaurant partner Michael Mindel, left, and Chef Peter McNee serve a tasting to Katya Armistead, board co-chair for the Family Service Agency, at the 2017 Cooking Up Dreams fundraiser. McNee received the Judge’s Choice Award. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

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iSociety: Rochelle Rose

The 2017 Cooking Up Dreams fundraiser for the Family Service Agency was said to “tickle your taste buds and tug at your heartstrings,” and it certainly filled the bill.

The special event took over the large ballroom at The Fess Parker with a large silent auction, culinary offerings from a dozen local competing master chefs, voting boxes for the People’s Choice Award, and a cool, state-of-the-art Rumor photo booth.

Guests also enjoyed complimentary wine provided by Santa Barbara Winery and Grassini Family Vineyards, and music by DJ Scott Topper.

Guests and celebrity judges voted on the top dish that won the People’s Choice Award or the Judge’s Choice Award. The People’s Choice Award went to Adam White of Santa Barbara FisHouse (prawnton appetizer), and the Judge’s Choice Award went to Peter McNee of Convivo (pesce crudo).

Proceeds from Cooking Up Dreams support the Family Service Agency’s youth enrichment programs, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, school-based counseling and youth behavioral health — all programs targeting low-income, at-risk youths who, with the help of counseling and mentors, are able to improve their personal growth and academic experience.

“We are thrilled with our crowd of 300 supporters,” FSA development director Denise Hinkle told Noozhawk. “This event is sold out! We plan to raise over $100,000 tonight for Family Service Agency’s much-needed programs.”

Meredith Garofalo and Emily Nordee volunteered as Event Committee co-chairs. Garofalo is a meteorologist and reporter for Newschannel 3; her forecasts air on KEYT and Fox 11. Nordee is the public relations director for Evans Hardy + Young, a local communications agency specializing in food and hospitality.

“I love the services that Family Service Agency provides,” Nordee said. “Every story about their direct services just melts my heart.”

Live auctioneer Andrew Firestone added, “This is the second year that I have served as auctioneer. I know how vitally important this organization is. We are all helping our neighbors in need.”

Event co-chairs Emily Nordee, left, and Meredith Garofalo.

Event co-chairs Emily Nordee, left, and Meredith Garofalo. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

“We are very fortunate to have two experienced and dedicated professionals leading our signature fundraising event,” Executive Director Lisa Brabo said. “Our event committee put together a very unique event that is a great way to have fun while helping at-risk kids achieve their dreams!”

This year’s participating chefs and restaurants included Chef Vincent Lesage of Angel Oak at Bacara Resort & Spa, Chef Irvin Velex Calderon of the Santa Barbara Boathouse, Chef Peter McNee of Convivo; Chef James Siao of Finch & Fork; Chef Weston Richards of Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, Chef Steven Snook of First & Oak at The Mirabelle Inn, Michael Hutchings of Michael’s Catering (last year’s winner of the Judge’s and People’s Choice awards), Nimita Dhirajla of Nimita’s Cuisine, Chef Robert Perez of Oveja Blanca/The Black Sheep, Andrew Dickerson of Patxi’s Pizza, Joseph Baumel of Persona Wood-Fired Pizzeria, Chef Renaud of Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro and Chef Jesus Charco of Santa Barbara FisHouse.

The 2017 presenting sponsor was Union Bank. Additional sponsors included Les and Zora Charles, John and Jill Bishop, Michael and Marni Cooney, Jim and Shirley Ann Hurley, Bob and Susan Manning, Montecito Bank & Trust, Maryan Schall, Jeff Slay/Woodruff-Sawyer FKA Neovia, Bergquist Wang LLC, Tim and Ginny Bliss, Hugh and Kelly Boss, Bunnin Chevrolet Cadillac, Liz and Andrew Butcher, Coast Village Chevron, The Liquor & Wine Grotto, the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, Ghita Ginberg, Jim and Chana Jackson, Jim and Mary Morouse, Price, Postel & Parma LLP, Sybil Rosen, David Smith, and Fred and Jane Sweeney.

Judges for the event included Joey Buttitta, anchor for KEYT; John Dickson, food critic for the Santa Barbara Independent; Krista Harris, editor of Edible Santa Barbara; Jen Jasinski, owner of Rioja in Denver; and Max MacKissock, owner of Bar Dough in Denver.

The Family Service Agency is a nonprofit social service organization that has served Santa Barbara County since 1899, continually improving the health and well-being of the community’s most vulnerable children, families and seniors through their transformative and essential programs: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Senior Services, Family Support Services, Youth & Family Behavioral Health and School Counseling Services. All services are provided free or on a sliding fee/donation scale, and no one is denied assistance because of an inability to pay.

Click here for more information about FSA, or call 805.965.1001.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at This article includes reportinf Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Cynthia Miranda, left, Leilanie Miranda and Charli Kohn-Lopez — three little sisters from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program — helped at the event.

Cynthia Miranda, left, Leilanie Miranda and Charli Kohn-Lopez — three little sisters from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program — helped at the event. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)