Wine, food brightens spirits

Charitable gathering provides students chance to see culinary world

Arlene Passini, Monticello Vineyards employee, pours a glass of red wine for Tammeil Gilkerson, vice president (center), and Vicki Ferguson, dean of student services (left), during the 8th Annual Food and Wine Event held in the Gymnasium on Sunday.

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Local celebrities, vendors and residents all came together in the name of food, wine and a chance to give culinary arts department students a chance to travel the world at the eighth annual Food and Wine Event held Sunday in the Gymnasium.

Between donations and the auction,  $35,000 was raised.

The event raises money for the Contra Costa College Culinary Arts Study Abroad Program. This year the program will send six students to Italy instead of the 10 it normally sends.

Culinary arts department Chairperson Nader Sharkes uses his relationships from around the Bay Area to support such a large-scale event.

“I have personal connections in the community that help bring everything together,” Sharkes said. “Everyone is having a good time. Some people show so much support for the kids and the hard work they do that they write (donation) checks on the spot.”

Big fundraising events like the key to the liquor cabinet or the silent auction drew crowds of supporters.

KPIX news anchor Frank Mallicoat helped with auctioneer duties, back at the event for his fourth year in a row.

“It’s wonderful. This year seems bigger than ever,” Mallicoat said. “There is good food, plenty of wine, smiles all around and the songs are awesome.”

Attendee Holly Johnson won the contents of a liquor cabinet by donating $20 and receiving a key. The correct key opens the cabinet containing various wines and popular spirits.

“I walked around with this key for over an hour before I used it,” Johnson said, “We are just happy to come and support. (CCC) is one of the premier institutions in the area.”

Vendors from the entirety of the area packed the Gymnasium decorated with white clothed tables, aligned to allow an easy flow to a large group of people as they made their rounds from display to display.

Attached to the ceiling was an over-eight-foot-long balloon sculpture configured to look like bunches of grapes on the vine.

The wine was the most popular attraction; some attendees even carried special wine glass holsters around their necks to keep their hands free.

Many vendors hold special connections to the program or CCC in general by either graduating from the culinary arts program or getting the opportunity to be on display as a budding chef.

For culinary department alum Cassandra Simmons, this was her first Food and Wine Event as a dessert vendor.

“I finished the program 32 years ago and I came back here to speak as an alumni in 2013,” Simmons said.

With so many options, it was hard for guests to know where to begin upon entering the gala. Each display, from cupcakes to oysters on the half shell, was inviting enough to make guests forget their intended destination and meander.

Some vendors did a better job at standing out than others.

The Richmond Country Club had prime real estate: the first booth nearest the entrance. But it takes more than location to keep the sample platter empty.

“It all comes down to the food,” Richmond Country Club Catering Manager Amanda Howard said. “Our chef does a good job combining innovation with presentation.”

After the live auction, six students were chosen for the trip. The selection criteria include work hours, a letter of recommendation from a professor or employer and an essay.

Lauren Patrick’s eyes filled with tears as her name was announced among the selected.

“I feel great,” Patrick said. “It’s so much of a reward after all of the hard work and hours we put in to this. This (trip to Italy) will be the farthest (away) I have ever been.”

The consistent success of this event raises questions about similar events being proposed and structured similarly to raise money for other departments.

“It would have to be something with a specific purpose and would take a culmination of things to make it work,” Dean of Student Services Vicki Ferguson said. “I think something on this scale could work for other departments.”