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'Top Chef' Meets Top Chefs in Fund-Raiser

'Top Chef' Meets Top Chefs in Fund-Raiser

Karen Herzog | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It was one minute until show time as an all-star cast of chefs crowded around a stainless steel table in the kitchen of Bacchus restaurant Wednesday night, poised to plate a porcini-crusted wild Alaskan king salmon dish created by the reigning reality cooking show Top Chef Hosea Rosenberg.

“Ok, let’s go, guys. These people want to eat. We don’t have all night,” master of ceremonies Paul Bartolotta, a two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and Wauwatosa native, excitedly told the chefs as the camera rolled.

The show was exclusively for 160 guests in the adjoining dining room, who watched their dinners being plated on television monitors. Guests paid $150 apiece for the six-course Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner – with courses created by two Top Chefs from the Bravo cable television show of that name and James Beard Award-winning chefs.

Servers waited with a folded napkin in each hand as the chefs teamed up to assemble Rosenberg’s first course. The first chef on the line scooped celery root and pear puree into the center of a white plate. Another chef added the salmon, another then meticulously mounded a pear, fennel and celery salad on top, followed by other chefs adding grilled porcini mushrooms, applewood smoked bacon and micro celery shoots. The finishing touch: polka dots of green parsley oil and red wine pepper reduction around the plate rim. The last chef to touch every plate was Beard-winner Adam Siegel of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus, who wiped the rims before handing the plates to servers to be whisked to diners.

Siegel’s hors d’oeuvres had left the kitchen an hour earlier.

“Keep the puree centered,” Rosenberg instructed as Bartolotta walked up behind him, rubbed his shoulders and announced: “I want you to be happy.”

Bartolotta was clearly enjoying himself, creating a bit of Vegas glitz in Milwaukee, fresh off a guest judging stint on the current season of “Top Chef,” which airs Wednesday nights on Bravo. “I can’t tell you who won,” Bartolotta joked about next week’s episode challenge in Las Vegas, which he judged. “I’d have to kill you.”

Wednesday night’s benefit dinner included a silent auction to raise money for culinary scholarships. The most exclusive item: A five-course meal for six people, prepared and served at the top bidder’s home by Siegel.

Namie Ahuja of Greendale won Siegel in her kitchen with a bid of $2,500.

“It’s for a good cause,” she said of the scholarship fund, which will be administered through Milwaukee Area Technical College, the alma mater of Bartolotta, whose family owns Bartolotta Restaurant Group. Bartolotta won his most recent James Beard Award this year for his work at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in Las Vegas.