A record 130 guests attended the gala.
As expected, noted area ACF-member chefs made up most of the list, but
family and friends (staff from Cesta’s Inn Between Restaurant, along
with his family, numbered 32 alone), plus food vendors were also on
hand to feast on the extraordinary cuisine prepared by Kevin Gentile of
Gentile’s Restaurant and Skipp Worden of the Renaissance Hotel.
Assistance came from Worden’s staff. This is Gentile’s third time
creating a culinary masterpiece for his colleagues, a daunting task to
be sure, but all agreed that he was more than up to the challenge.
Twice as nice: Chef Chris Cesta began his culinary
adventures as dishwasher at the Inn Between, and has since worked his
way up to head of the kitchen. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
Chefs always like to be innovative, and
for the first time an appetizer competition held before the dinner gave
some ACF members the chance to show their stuff. A table set up in an
anteroom allowed judges to easily sample each item, after which guests
were invited to do the same. Combinations of sweet and savory dominated
the 11 offerings, but the judges finally settled on the crispy polenta
cakes as first prize. Creator Randy Colman, also a chef at the Inn
Between, was 2007's Chef of the Year. Second place went to Chance Bear,
chef at the Owasco Country Club, who devised a chive cheesecake. Third
prize, Peking duck carpaccio with grilled apricot on wasabi croutons,
went to Brian Shore, executive chef at the Century Club.
The elaborate, Spanish-inspired
five-course meal—served by a super-professional waitstaff, an important
element in making any dinner a success—began with a chilled lobster
coconut tapioca purse with citrus vinaigrette. The heady
lobster-coconut melange was encased in a rounded shallot skin, then
dabbed with the vinaigrette for a taste contrast.
The second course was a series of
surprises, beginning with thinly sliced beet carpaccio arranged on a
narrow, vertically aligned plate. Diners moved up from the bottom and
found surprises tucked in between the beets: a crumble of gorgonzola
cheese, a nest of morel mushrooms and, finally, asparagus tips fanned
out like a flag at the top.
Diners were presented with the third
course of lemon-scented Rioja risotto, featuring the creamy rice
compressed into a hollowed-out lemon surrounded by mounds of Serrano
ham, Manchego cream, avocado mousse, roasted corn and leek. Diners were
instructed to empty out the risotto from the lemon, then variously
taste the rice with the accompanied elements.
Course No. 4 continued the Spanish theme
with Indian Ridge pork loin rubbed with ancho and guajillo chiles. An
accompaniment was a little packet presentation of Jail Island salmon
(named for the fish’s native island in Canada), criss-cross-wrapped
with fine strips of zucchini, then capped with onion marmalade and
Dessert consisted of orange chipotle
caramel flan, avocado banana cream profiterole and cinnamon ice cream
with bourbon-glazed plantain, sweets that were beautifully textured and
not too rich.
A selection of red and white wines from
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport included
Chateau Frank 2002 Brut, Salmon Run 2008 Pinot Grigio, Salmon Run 2008
Chardonnay/Riesling and Dr. Konstantin Frank 2007 Cabernet Franc.
Ron DeLeonardis, owner of Creative
Catering and 2001 Chef of the Year, emceed the evening with comic brio,
and was up to his usual shenanigans—making general announcements during
dinner, followed by an ongoing notation of the long roster of awards at
the end of the meal. DeLeonardis especially wanted guests to note the
wonderful photographs taken by Syracuse New Times photographer Michael Davis at the annual Great Chefs Dinner held March 22 at the Skaneateles Country Club.
The pictures flashed on a large screen
for all to see and showed ACF chefs preparing that evening’s sumptuous
banquet. Davis not only gave everyone a taste of the behind-the-scenes
ordered confusion of the approximately 60 chefs and assistants, but
also displayed the finished lineup of splendidly crafted dishes as they
were ready to be served. The presentation was one of the highlights of
One of the first awards was presented to
Mary Kiernan, a food and beverage instructor in the School of
Hospitality Management in the College of Human Ecology at Syracuse
University, and the first woman to be named vice president of the local
ACF. She was awarded Chef Professionalism, for her culinary workshops.
Awards were proffered to both ACF
members and vendors who performed special services to the organization
over the years. Each award winner walked off with a framed photograph
of all 58 of the chefs, who participated in the Great Chefs Dinner in
March. An azure-blue sky and beautiful Skaneateles Lake were backdrops
for the photograph.
Once all the awards were doled out,
guests were anxiously awaiting the introduction of Cesta, but emcee
DeLeonardis wanted to do more than just single him out for all his
accomplishments. What followed was a virtual “roast,” using Cesta’s
supposed original employment application to the Inn Between when he was
all of 17.
One of the questions asked was, “What kind of employment did you have before applying for this job?”
“Paperboy,” the zany master of ceremonies reported.
“Why did you quit?”
“Too many paper cuts on my fingers.”
“How long have you lived at your present
address?” “Since I moved there.” The mirthful master of ceremonies
continued down the employment application for similar goofy retorts.
Now that the scene was set, DeLeonardis
turned over the podium to ACF president Jerry Bolton, executive chef of
OnCenter, who then introduced the honoree. Not to be outdone by
DeLeonardis, Cesta did his own turn as funny man. Unlike many who
learned how to cook from their mother, Cesta admitted that the only
recipes his mother knew how to prepare were Spanish rice or goulash,
and playing on a well-worn joke, he added the only other thing she made
well was reservations.
“There was definitely room for
improvement, so I decided to become a chef,” concluded Cesta. “But, I
love you, mom. You know how some houses have plastic all over the
furniture in the living room to keep it from being used? In our house
plastic covered everything in the kitchen.”
Cesta listed the number of some of the
dishes he prepared in all his years at the Inn Between, the only
restaurant where he has ever worked, starting as dishwasher and working
his way up to chef/owner today. “I cooked over 300,000 roast beef
dinners, prepped 780,000 shrimp, 468,000 clams casino, and over 10,000
beef Wellingtons,” he recalled.
Cesta then invited Colman to the podium.
“Randy has been my personal instructor for all the years I have been at
the Inn Between, and has forgotten more than I ever learned,” he
admitted. He then asked the entire staff from the restaurant to join
him up front, stating that they are the reason that he has been given
Festivities were over by 10 p.m., but
DeLeonardis invited everyone to stay for some dancing and a little more
imbibing. “We have the place until 2 a.m,” he hinted, suggesting that
the organization get its money’s worth.
The kitchen crew dishes
out the Indian Ridge Pork Loin, the fourth and final course in the meal.