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Joining me at the Illumination Foundation's "Table for Ten" at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim is Host Chef Andrew Sutton

Joining me at the Illumination Foundation’s “Table for Ten” at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in Anaheim is Host Chef Andrew Sutton

I love to eat, so one of my favorite charity events of the year is the Illumination Foundation’s “Table for Ten,” where Orange County’s top chefs (and a few LA restaurants) prepare their signature dishes tableside. And, the best part is that it’s for a great cause – helping to break the cycle of homelessness in Orange County. Every time I talk to Illumination Foundation CEO/Founder Paul Leon, I am impressed by his passion for the cause. He was excited this year about the nonprofit’s new partnership with the City of Anaheim. “They’ve become a real partner,” he said. “We are working with all nine of their school districts to identify the homeless, and they are also leasing us property at a great rate, which provides a multi-service center for us to triage the homeless.”

Wells Fargo continued its role as presenting sponsor of the the fundraiser and, for the first time, Disneyland Resort stepped up as a presenting sponsor. Mary Niven, Vice President of Disney California Adventure Park and Guest Services, stated, “We’re about strengthening family bonds, so we are proud to partner with the Illumination Foundation.”

The “foodie” evening, held at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, commenced with a lively cocktail reception for the 320 guests in the ballroom’s foyer, where Chef Adam Navidi from Oceans & Earth Restaurant, serving as Cocktail Reception Chef, offering delicious appetizers to everyone. Manassero Farms, represented by owners Dan and Anne Manassero, had a beautiful display of the fresh fruits and vegetables they offer at their five Orange County locations. Many of the participating chefs took the Manasseros up on their offer to supply any fruits and vegetables they needed gratis for the gourmet affair. While guests perused the silent auction offerings, they could also pose with Mickey and Minnie for a keepsake photo. As it turned out, Niven was the top bidder at $2,000 for a private dinner for 12 at Manassero Farms’ Irvine location.

Once inside the ballroom, guests, myself included, were amazed at the lengths the different restaurants went to for table decor, with extravagant table linens, exquisite floral arrangements, the finest china and crystal, and special gifts for each guest the norm. Once seated, of course, everyone enjoyed a superb dinner, accompanied by the finest wines, orchestrated by 31 chefs at the top of their game. My table was the Cliff’s Edge restaurant from the Silver Lake area in Los Angeles. The executive chef, Vartan Abgaryan, you might recall from A Restaurant, where he was a star, was unable to attend the event at the last minute because his wife was delivering their first baby – more about that later. So, Chef de Cuisine Javier Lopez took over for Abgaryan, and there was nary a glitch. The seven-course dinner was exquisite, with a mix of chilled English pea soup, a carrot plate extraordinaire, barbecued octopus (delish!) and suckling pig (also delish). It was left to Shelly Register’s amazing carmel custard (she was with Abgaryan at A Restaurant) to provide a fitting finale to the extraordinary repast.

I want to make sure the participating chefs and their restaurants are mentioned, as everyone involved really gave it their all for the fundraiser. All the costs were absorbed by the restaurants, chefs and staff, which is pretty amazing. In addition to Navidi and Abgaryan/Lopez, who I have already mentioned, kudos to host chefs Andrew Sutton of The Grand Californian’s Napa Rose and the hotel’s Executive Chef Ralph StuhlmuellerVincent Lesage and Rachel Haggstrom of Waterline at the Balboa Bay Resort, Ashley Santo-Domingo of 24 Carrots, Bruno Serato of Anaheim White House, Brian Doherty of Bambu at the Fairmont Newport Beach Hotel, Vittorio Lucariello of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Steven Mary of Catal Mediterranean Grill in Downtown Disney, Alex Flores of Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney’s California Adventure Park, Lewis Butler of the Center Club, Seakyeong Kim of Charlie Palmers at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Marcel St. Pierre of Disney’s Club 33, David Shofner of Dublin 4 Gastropub and Wineworks for Everyone, Franco Barone of Il Barone Ristorante, John Ledbetter of Lark Creek Newport Beach in Fashion Island, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille, Dustin White of Orange Hill Restaurant, David Martin of The Pacific Club, David Slay of Park Avenue, Louie Jocson of Red Table, Edgar Agbayani of Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine in Fashion Island, Manny Gomez of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, David Fune of Splashes at Surf & Sand Resort, Norberto Village and Rayne Frey of Tabu Grill, Imran Ali of Tamarind of London at Crystal Cove Promenade, Casey Overton of The Loft at Montage Resort Laguna Beach, Pascal Olhats and Gregory Moro of The Pascal Experience, Marcus Lage of Tommy Bahama Bar & Grill in Fashion Island, Conrad Gallagher of Vanity Catering & Events, and Thomas Trevethan of Vue Restaurant at The Laguna Cliff’s Resort & Spa and the resort’s executive chef Michael Webb.

Wells Fargo VP of Community Relations Jack Toan, who is board chairman of Illumination Foundation, brought the homeless message home as he related how he and his wife Maribel faced similar circumstances growing up – she on the streets of LA as a runaway teen and Jack and his family as Vietnam refugees. “We feel we have the duty to help others less fortunate,” Jack said. Thanks to HAPP (Homeless Assistance Pilot Program), a partnership between the City of Anaheim and the Illumination Foundation, the keys to a residence were presented by Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait to the Rodriguez-Rocha family. It was a wonderful moment, and Paul Leon was all-smiles seeing it unfold. It didn’t stop there. Two extremely generous individuals were honored. Anaheim White House Chef Bruno Serato received IF’s Chef Community Champion Award for his work with Caterina’s Club feeding hungry motel children. He feeds 300 kids dinner daily seven nights a week, which works out to more than 2.5 million meals since 2005. West Tech Materials’ Owner/President Richard Campo received IF’s Community Champion Award for his longtime work with children, including establishing a Sunday school class for children living at the Costa Mesa Motor Inn in collaboration with IF’s services for homeless families at the motel.

A performance by the Illumination Foundation Children’s Choir brought smiles all-round, and 14-year-old singer/songwriter Maddy Vance performed a beautiful song she composed called “Stars.” The live auction, presided over by emcee and auctioneer DawnMarie Kotsonis, featured many chef dinners, again, thanks to the generous chefs and restaurants represented, as well as specialized men’s and women’s bikes from City Cyclery in Huntington Beach and trips to Puerto Vallarta and Whistler Four Seasons. A stunning pair of diamond earrings valued at $4,600 from Armen Designs in Newport Beach were won by Carmen Smith, VP of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering. As it turned out, it was a great night for Vartan Abgaryan. We heard as we were leaving that he and his wife were the proud parents of a baby girl!

Guests departed with a stuffed grab bag of goodies, too numerous to mention, but many of them edible, and the hotel provided a hot chocolate and coffee bar in the foyer as guests waited in valet for their cars. Net proceeds of $260,000 were realized for the Illumination Foundation to continue its mission in providing targeted services and housing to homeless families and individuals with the goal of breaking or preventing the cycle of homelessness.

Selected photos from Bob Hodson Photography