A popular tasting event returns to Will County on March 5 at the Bolingbrook Golf Club.
The United Cerebral Palsy Center for Disability Services in Joliet is hosting its 2023 Great Chef’s Tasting Party and Auction after suspending the event in 2021 and 2022 due to the pandemic.
More than a dozen area restaurants will share bite-sized servings of appetizers, desserts and beverages. Anastasia Tuskey, UCP Center for Disability Services spokesman, said the offerings run the gamut, from great barbecue to Peruvian dishes.
“Where else can you sample great food from all over the world in one location?” Tuskey said.
Other features include a live and silent auction, 50/50 and a Golden Ticket for $100. Only 52 Golden Tickets will be sold. Winner will select his or her choice of prize from among the live auction items, Tuskey said.
“People forget we have fine incredible restaurants around here,” Tuskey said. “You don’t need to go to Chicago to get a fine dining experience.”
Tuskey said registration is going well and that “people want to get back to normal and have some fun.”
“I think people want to be together,” Tuskey said. “They want to socialize and to hang out…then what better way to bond than over good food?”
The Great Chef’s Tasting Party and Auction is UCP’s major fundraiser for the year, raising $100,000 for the nonprofit in 2020, Tuskey said.
So it took some creative strategizing to compensate the suspension of the event during COVID, Tuskey said. For instance, the football-themed Gridiron fundraiser was held online, Tuskey said.
And Gina Wysocki-Szpur, development director for UCP Center for Disability Services, created the Great American Big Wheel Race, which is held outside and has grown each year, Tuskey said.
UCP also “relied heavily” on its annual appeal, sending out letters reminding people of the services it provides and “calling on their goodness and generosity” to donate, Tuskey said.
The Great Chef’s Tasting Party and Auction was launched nearly 30 years ago by Fred Ferrara, retired Joliet Junior College chef instructor and current instructor for the vocational skills food classes, according to Michael McGreal, chair of the JJC’s culinary arts program.
Ferrara said in a 2016 Herald-News story that when he previously taught in Florida, Ferrara participated in a similar fundraiser for United Cerebral Palsy, hosted by a chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
So once Ferrara came to Joliet, he approached UCP and offered to coordinate a similar event, he said in the 2016 story. Ferrara said in 2016 he envisioned the event bringing chefs together, even if they didn’t belong to the American Culinary Federation.
Ferrara said in 2016 the first event attracted about 12 stations and 160 people. The tasting party continued to grow – up to 500 guests some years, Ferrara said. The UCP Center for Disability Services website said the first event was held in 1995.
“People like to take part in things that support worthy causes,” Ferrara said in 2016. “And I think the grazing is more of a social atmosphere, where they can mingle and talk with people as they move through the lines.”
McGreal is proud of the way Ferrara grew the event over the years. He said many people have good ideas for helping people. But not everyone is able to execute them and “raise money for a worthy cause” with an event that typically sells out, McGreal said.
And Ferrara brings his “fatherly” type of mentorship to the students he now teaches food-related vocational skills that they can take into the work force and into their homes, McGreal said.
“He’s truly giving back to other people,” McGreal said. “He’s helping these students to have a better life.”
Participating restaurants include Allegory in Naperville, Big Fish Grille in Wilmington, Cheesecakes by James, The Dock at Inwood in Joliet, Don Orlando’s Restaurant & Catering in Joliet, The Final Cut Steakhouse at the Hollywood Casino Joliet, Gia Mia, Jacob Henry Mansion Estate in Joliet, Joliet Junior College culinary arts program, Kozol Brothers in Joliet, Metal Monkey Brewing in Romeoville, Morris Chop Shop, The Nest at Bolingbrook Golf Club, Reserve Steakhouse at Harrah’s Joliet, Richardson’s Bistro of Joliet, Station One Smokehouse of Plainfield.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Great Chef’s Tasting Party & Auction
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. March 5
WHERE: Bolingbrook Golf Club 2001 Rodeo Drive, Bolingbrook
ETC: Samples of chef-prepared appetizers, desserts, and beverages. Vote on the most Savory Appetizer, Delicious Dessert, Beverage and overall Grand Presentation. Wine grab, golden ticket, live and silent auction.
INFO: Buy tickets at ucp-cds.org/events/great-chefs-tasting-party-auction.