300 attend ‘Farm to Table’ dinner, auction

NAPPANEE — When more than a dozen chefs team up to prepare a meal, and they turn to local farmers for ingredients, it’s time to set extra places at the table.
The Family Christian Development Center filled every seat in the Upper Room of the Coppes Commons in Nappanee Saturday, Aug. 11, for a benefit dinner that began with a sparkling mixed berry float from Rocket Science Ice Cream and ended more than three hours later with Happy Dance cupcakes.
The event, which also included both a live and silent auction, raised more than $60,000 for FCDC, whose food pantry was a special beneficiary of the night.
“The many donations we’ve received in support of this event in just overwhelming,” Karen Stoltzfus, the executive director of FCDC, said midway through the evening. “We are both humbled and blessed.”
Shelly Lengacher, who together with her husband Jack, served as co-chairs of the event, said that 140 people – from Fort Wayne, Warsaw, Middlebury and elsewhere — had volunteered to help in one capacity or another in the immediate days leading up to the dinner. Many others had volunteered earlier, including the chefs and food providers on whom much of the evening depended.
The dinner unfolded with a series of courses. Before each dish was served, the master of ceremonies, Mark Mikel, a former president of the FCDC board, introduced and interviewed each chef. As diners were reaching for Old World Italian and Ciabatta bread, for example, they heard Kevin Crouch of Charlie’s Butcher Block and Deli in Elkhart mention that the flour came from the Bonneyville Mill in Bristol.
Drawing on the resources of local communities was a theme for the evening. Andrew Jones, the chef proprietor at Viand Chef Services in Warsaw, and a former chef at Cerulean and Noa Noa, mentioned that the spring onions for his slow-roasted pork bellies came from Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen.
“Once we got the scoop on this event we signed on,” said Scott Woods of Noa Noa Wood Grill & Sushi Bar in Warsaw. “This is our first farm to table event.”
Tish Woods, who manages Noa Noa with her husband, Scott, signed them up for the dinner and auction event. The couple (who attend Nappanee Missionary Church) try to work with church community and charitable events as much as possible. For this event, Woods served grilled shrimp on a bed of grits.
“This was a fine dining experience to support an excellent organization,” said Bill Rieth, the president and chief executive of United Way of Elkhart County. “FCDC took something that we all enjoy — food — and used it as a way to help in their mission to serve others.”
Linda Thompson of Nappanee said, “This is the most-fun event I’ve been to as a fundraiser in a long time. I think everyone has enjoyed themselves.”
One of the auction items was a tea party for up to 14 people in the home of Thompson and her husband, Larry, the mayor of Nappanee. Sarah Kingsley Metzler, an elementary school teacher from Goshen, said, “There aren’t many events like this, given the quality of food and the ambience. An event like this will have a following. People will look forward to returning.”
The Upper Room at Coppes Commons was festively decorated, with white table coverings, hand-sewn cloth napkins, and black-eyed Susans with other wild flowers in two-quart canning jars. Overhead hung garlands of white lights.
In-between the courses, Mikel encouraged everyone to visit the adjoining room where silent auction items were available, including a 46” digital TV, a pie-per-month from the Nappanee Bakery and Treat Shoppe, and a bow and arrows and three weeks of lessons. Midway through the meal, Phil Hahn stepped forward, auctioning off items and services like Colts tickets, an Amish dinner at the home of Mose and Etta Miller of Nappanee, and a Hog Heaven pork dinner for up to 200 people courtesy of Jenkins Automotive.
The Rev. Ed Geleske, president of the board of directors, narrated a slide show that featured FCDC’s food pantry, which distributed 84,000 grocery items in 2011.
“It’s hard to ask for help,” he said. “All of us want to be able to take care of ourselves. But sometimes we need the help of friends and neighbors.”
Ola Yoder, the owner and chief executive of Kountry Wood Products, which served as the platinum sponsor for the event, said, “This was a great evening. I enjoyed having a chance to socialize with people in town and to support the work of FCDC. This is good for the community. There are still a lot of people who are out of work.”
Barb A’Hearn, an event planner who helped to coordinate the dinner and auction, said the spirit of giving was amazing. “Everyone said yes,” she said. “There wasn’t anyone we went to who said no.”
An early issue of the magazine Edible Michiana helped to inspire the idea. “We wanted an event that fit the community,” she said. “Given the farms around here, the respect for the environment, and the fact that farm to table is ‘in,’ this really made sense.” A’Hearn said one of the striking features of the evening was the way that the chefs, many of whom had never worked together before, put aside any competitive instincts to form a single food team in the kitchen.
“In the back prep area all the chefs were helping each other out,” she said. “It was amazing. They loved it. Everyone said, ‘If you do this again, just call us.’”
FCDC is a faith-based nonprofit agency that serves the Nappanee and Wakarusa area with a food pantry, clothing closet, and programs in well-baby care, emergency assistance, medication assistance, education and advocacy. The number of people served more than doubled in the last three years, reaching 12,842 in 2011.