The final numbers have come in for A Tribute to Chef Charlie Trotter, the event that was held in December by the late chef's friend Norman Van Aken. Van Aken's elegant restaurant, Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, was transformed into a multi-stationed food emporium for the evening. The tables and chairs were removed and some of the area's best chefs came in to cook, serve incredible wines and raise funds and awareness for the Trotter Project.
More than 165 guests raised $8,300 for the organization, which was formed by Trotter's family and former staffers to promote culinary education.
Joining Van Aken were James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig; Tim Keating, Flying Fish Cafe; Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert's; Ryan Vargas, Emeril's Tchoup Chop; Kevin Fonzo, K; Hari Pulapaka, Cress; Greg Richie, Soco; David Serus, Ritz-Carlton; Kathleen Blake, Rusty Spoon; Brandon McGlamery, Luma on Park; Jerome Bocuse, Monsieur Paul; John Rivers, 4 Rivers Smokehouse; and Greg Baker, The Refinery (Tampa).
The food was over the top, with such things as Hog's Head Crostini, Umami-laced Spiny Lobster, Rabbit and Black Trumpet Mushroom Boudin, Barbecued Pork Belly, Stone Crab and Tobacco Cured Mullet, Swordfish Tartare, Scotched Quail Eggs, and Veal Sweetbreads with Morels.
Rivers was situated on the verandah and was carving from a whole roast pig. There was also caviar, Wagyu Ribeye, Shrimp Ceviche, Oysters (best I've had in a long time) and Crab Claws.
Wines were curated by six master somms: John Blazon, George Miliotes, Brian Koziol, Andres McNamara, Eric Hemer, and Laura DePasquale. They poured Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc; Walter Hansel Estate Chardonnay (a favorite), Clarendon Hills Granache, Tolanini Valdisanti Cabernet Blend (another favorite), and Champagne Laurent-Perrier Demi Sec. Needless to say, those in attendance got much more than their $200 ticket price — even before you figure in the desserts from Stephane Cheramy of the Ritz-Carlton and Norman's Jose Detres, or the Macallan Scotch, Remy Martin Cognac, Eagle Rare Bourbon or Brugal Rhum that flowed freely.
And Norman's general manager and wine director, Yusuf Yildez and his staff proved why Norman's has some of the best service in town.
I had predicted before the event that it would be the culinary highlight of last year. Now I'm wondering if anything this year can top it.