Chefs offer delicacies to benefit university

Advocate staff photo by BRIANNA PACIORKA -- Jonathan Wong, of Cate Street Seafood Station, dabs Sriracha Sauce on white tuna tataki Sunday at Southeastern University's Chefs Evening in Hammond. The event featured Hammond area restaurants and serves as the university's largest fundraiser.
Advocate staff photo by BRIANNA PACIORKA -- Jonathan Wong, of Cate Street Seafood Station, dabs Sriracha Sauce on white tuna tataki Sunday at Southeastern University's Chefs Evening in Hammond. The event featured Hammond area restaurants and serves as the university's largest fundraiser.

The 29th annual Chefs Evening showcased 42 restaurants and bakeries whose booths circled the four basketball courts at the Pennington Student Activity Center on Sunday evening.

Food was the focus of the evening. A dance floor went unused as attendees concentrated on what restaurants and bakeries offered.

Each eatery donated a signature dish for attendees to taste.

That included items such as braised brisket on smooth chevre cheese and browned silver queen corn grits with herbs tossed in a Tabasco vinaigrette served by Gary Fonseca, head chef at Carter’s Plantation in Springfield.

The grits beneath the salty pork were creamy and smooth, guests said.

Fonseca said that the Louisiana dish is a play on “grits and grillades.”

Cocoa Bean Bakery and Café drew a string of diners with its white chocolate bread pudding with bananas Foster sauce.

Buddies Bar and Grill took first prize for a main dish; Tope La won for best accompanying dish; and Yum Yum Bakery won for best dessert.

The food from Buddies also gained rave reviews from Miss Southeastern, Renee Picou, who described Buddies as her favorite of the restaurants.

Buddies served grilled oysters and grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon and steak.

Yum Yum served cupcakes with colorful icings.

Tope La presented diners with roasted jalapeno corn polenta cake, jumbo lump crab, beef asparagus rolls and blue cheese flatbread.

Many of the more than 200 diners created buddy systems in which they brought back food from different parts of the center to their tables.

Couples strolled the perimeters of the courts, sampling dishes at one booth, then moving on to eye creations at the next.

Wendy Lauderdale, vice president of University Advancement, said the event moved to the Pennington Center three years ago, and the crowd continues to grow.

“There are more restaurants, more sponsors.” Lauderdale said. “It keeps getting better, and people just love this venue.”

Last year’s event raised about $80,000, Lauderdale said.

All profits of the event go directly to the university’s academics, helping to reduce the impact of budget cuts, she said.

Jacki Bellairs, director of annual giving at SLU, said the whole community comes together to support the university.

The event included two silent auctions and one live auction.

SLU’s jazz band provided music, as did Todd O’Neill.

The St. Thomas Aquinas Starlettes closed the entertainment with a dance routine.

SLU students waited tables and acted as ushers.

Ashanti McLaurin, an SLU senior, said that from a student’s perspective, the night is good for networking.