Guest Chef Series: A Gourmet Gathering in Support of Family Services
Neither rain, nor sleet—or in this case, extreme heat—could keep 288 of some of the Central Valley’s most philanthropic citizens away from Family Services of Tulare County’s annual Guest Chef Series event. Celebrating the Valley’s abundance, “Come to the Table” was the theme of this year’s al fresco tasting and dinner held on June 17 at the elegant, rustic home of Stan and Carol Trapp.
For more than 30 years, Family Services has strived to fulfill its mission to, “help children, adults, and families heal from violence and thrive in healthy relationships.” Starting with the opening of a battered women’s shelter in 1983, the organization now positively impacts more than 3,000 Tulare County clients yearly. Family Services offers a myriad of resources addressing domestic violence, mental health, sexual assault, human trafficking, children’s counseling, parental education, support, outreach, prevention, and more. Close to 90 percent of the agency’s revenue is utilized on programming, and funds raised at the Guest Chef Series will be directed to general operational needs.
Upon arrival at the event, a flowing creek greeted guests as they walked across a bridge that led into the beautiful back yard. While mingling over cold beverages on the grass, towering oak trees swayed in occasional breezes, providing cooling respites from the nearly 100-degree temperature. In step with the celebration of the Valley’s agricultural riches, ice water infused with local fruit blends kept everyone hydrated in the late afternoon warmth.
A three-man musical group, The Tayters, set the tone for the event with a mellow, upbeat mixture of songs they described as “somewhat acoustic, eclectic entertainment.” Guests’ pictures were taken at a photo station complete with a “step and repeat” backdrop, fancy hats, and other accoutrements. Sitting under an especially large tree was a miniature farmer’s market, coordinated by board member Theresa LoBue and her husband Joe, and sponsored by Umina Brothers, Dayka Hackett, Kirschenman Farms, J.B. Critchley, and Aslan. These companies donated and transported fresh, local fruits and vegetables for partygoers to bring home, and the produce remaining after the event was donated to Visalia Emergency Aid Council.
The setting and atmosphere for dinner were evidence that an extraordinary evening was in store. Long tables set with white china, black napkins, and burlap runners were the foundation for a communal, farm-to-table feel that was sophisticated yet relaxing. Jody Gilman’s decorative vision mixed an eclectic collection of brass candlesticks, vintage vases, and casual floral arrangements (grown and designed by European Gardens) on the runners accented with olive branches. At dusk, Jody personally lit the candles, chatting with diners at each table.
Board Chair Mike Wallace welcomed everyone, thanked the event sponsors, and introduced Executive Director Caity Meader, who expressed her gratitude to everyone for attending, despite the high temperatures, and assured the crowd that their “presence makes a difference in our community.” She also acknowledged the event sponsors and recognized the Family Services staff and board of directors, sharing that in her many years in the non-profit arena, she has never worked with such a dedicated group of people. She then introduced Guest Chef Jon Koobation, who demonstrated three summer recipes.
Chef Jon—executive chef and restaurateur, 2001 California Restaurant Association Chef of the Year, author, and Central Valley culinary icon—donated his time and the ingredients for all the dishes served. He created the tastings for the event with seasonal produce currently available in the Central Valley. Diners followed along in their programs as he presented each recipe, sharing valuable tips and information.
Each tasting was served family-style as Family Services board members poured specially paired wines. Charred asparagus roll-ups gave a bright, savory nod to the summer grilling season. Salmon with summer fruit salsa was refreshingly tart and sweet with fresh peaches and sweet red onion, lemon, and a hint of heat from jalapeño pepper. In a fun twist, small portions of a rich, dark chocolate ganache tart with raspberry coulis were served as the third appetizer, prompting appreciative smiles as guests savored a taste of dessert before dinner.
After a short break, everyone returned to their seats and board member Shirley Batchman acknowledged Stan and Carol Trapp for hosting the event, thanking them sincerely for, “being gracious and welcoming from the moment they were asked if they’d be willing.”
Some might think it difficult to follow the delectable tasting dishes with an outstanding dinner menu, but Chef David Vartanian of The Vintage Press was, as always, up to the challenge. A dinner of grilled pork tenderloin marinated with honey, Dijon mustard, and red chile, roasted red and purple potatoes, and a summer vegetable medley, was followed by fresh peaches over pound cake for dessert.
As dusk fell, a short video showcased Family Services’ newest program, Freedom House, which supports victims of human trafficking. After an eight-year process to open, the house served 36 children and adults in 2016, and it’s anticipated more than double that number will be impacted this year.
Guest Speaker Diana, a victim of human trafficking, spoke of her journey and how she now works with victims. She articulated that everyone can make a positive impact in a victim’s life in some way: “Without a place like Freedom House, the journey toward safety and healing becomes a road filled with more potholes than pavement…everyone can do something to help…to pave a path where people can live their potential instead of their nightmare.”
To close the evening, Caity thanked the attendees once more and invited anyone interested “…to invest in the work that Family Services does in the community.” The warmth of guests’ compassion far surpassed the heat of the weather, as everyone stayed for the entire event in a testament to their commitment to the organization’s critical programs. In the words of Jeff Meader, “There are others who are dealing with much more than the heat; we are very fortunate that we are able to be here to support Family Services.”