If you‘re in the mood for an evening of fabulous food and wine, you could map out the best chefs from here to Augusta and hop in the car. Or you could stroll from table to table, a glass of shiraz in hand, at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom when the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gourmet Dinner Auction returns in October.
Now in its 18th year, the Signature Chefs event enjoys tremendous support in St. Louis, says Thom Sehnert, owner of Annie Gunn’s restaurant in Chesterfield Valley and honorary co-chair of this year’s event. “There’s such a tradition of longevity in St. Louis,” he says. “People remember us, they remember the March of Dimes, and they have stayed with us for 18 years.” The funds raised at the evening’s auction support the March of Dimes mission of giving every baby a healthy start, he explains. “Last year, even in a difficult economy, the auction raised nearly $400,000 in support of the wonderful work of this organization.” Saint Louis is one of ready 200 U.S. cities hosting a Signature Chefs event, and last year the auctions combined raised more than $15 million, Sehnert notes.
March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, and works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. According to the newest data from the National Center for Health statistics, Missouri’s rate of premature births dropped to 12.3 percent in 2008, the second decline in as many years. “It’s an honor to be able to contribute to that kind of success,” says Sehnert. “There is a very giving and generous spirit in St. Louis, and this evening is a win-win for everyone involved.”
The evening is special for the participating chefs and restaurant owners, he explains, because they have an opportunity to share their passion, and their stories, with longtime customers and new friends. “From a chef and owner’s perspective, it’s one night when we all get together, before our busiest season. We all look forward to it, and there’s always a bit of competitive spirit between the chefs, because they are preparing their signature dishes.”
The competitive nature of the popular evening begins months earlier, says Sehnert, because a selection committee chooses the chefs and there’s a waiting list to be included. “It’s difficult to get a place in this event, because no one ever wants to drop out. St. Louis has a long list of great long-lived restaurants,” says Sehnert. “And we’ve included private clubs because so many people were telling us about the fabulous chef at their club.” In addition to Annie Gunn’s, this year’s roster features chefs from Vin de Set, Niche, Latitude 26, Boone Valley Golf Club, Tony’s, Truffles, Harvest and 20 others, he adds.
Being honored at the event are Vince Bommarito Sr. and his son, Vince Bommarito Jr., for their longtime support of March of Dimes. “Vince Sr. has been an integral part of Signature Chefs since he served as co-chair for the first one back in 1992. He and Vince Jr. have done so much to make this fundraiser an amazing success throughout the years. We’ve really been blessed,” says Sehnert.
Co-chairs for the 2010 Signature Chefs are Kelly Johnson and Maureen Day. Thom Sehnert and Vince Bommarito Jr. are honorary co-chairs, and Stephanie and Randy Sterkel are patron chairs. The evening begins with cocktails and a silent auction followed by the culinary tasting buffet, and concludes with a live auction of Signature Chefs gourmet packages.
These are especially popular, notes Sehnert. “The packages the chefs put together are so personal,” he says. They include either dinner at their restaurant or at the bidder’s home, with menus designed according to the restaurant’s specialties. The bidding is very competitive!”
On the Cover: The 18th annual Signature Chefs Gourmet Dinner Auction to benefit March of Dimes takes place Oct. 11 at the Ritz-Carlton. The evening begins with cocktails and a silent auction, followed by a culinary tasting buffet prepared by 30 top St. Louis chefs, and a live auction featuring Signature Chefs Gourmet Packages. March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. It works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For tickets call 513-9955 or visit www.marchofdimes.com/missouri.
cover design by Dawn Stremlau