The East Bay food community is a generous bunch. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Five Star Night, the annual fundraiser for Alameda County Meals on Wheels. This event showcases our abundant local culinary talent as top chefs volunteer their time and skills to prepare a gourmet meal for about 300 guests.
This year, Five Star Night occurs on May 4 at Oakland’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The event will feature a four-course meal, a dessert buffet, live music plus live and silent auctions. All proceeds will benefit Alameda County Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that delivers hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors. While this year’s chefs and menu had yet to be announced at the time of printing, last year’s participating restaurants included heavy weights Bay Wolf, Bistro Liaison, Citron, Marica Seafood, Picante, Rivoli, Sea Salt, Soizic, Tamarindo Antojeria and Wente Vineyards.
Since 1987, local food celebrity Narsai David and Ellen Tussman, former owner of Savoy Catering, Dakota Grill and the Sedona Grill, have led the Five Star Night chefs in creating a first-rate meal using seasonal and local ingredients that are often donated by purveyors.
The opportunity to sample the creations of so many of the East Bay’s finest chefs in a single meal draws guests to this unique culinary experience year after year. “A lot of people tell me that this is the best meal they have all year,” says event planner Maureen Wickline.
Todd Kneiss, owner and executive chef of Bistro Liaison, has participated for the past four years. Of course, he appreciates the opportunity to introduce a captive audience to his French restaurant, but Kneiss also willingly volunteers because he values the importance of Meals on Wheels in the community. “For many Meals on Wheels recipients, the daily meal is the only contact they have with other people,” he says. He also enjoys the camaraderie in the kitchen and the chance to catch up with other chefs. “Putting out 300 meals is not as stressful as you might think,” he says, “because everybody helps each other.”
It seems that once a restaurant signs on to the event for the first time, they are hooked for years to come. Michael Wild, founding owner and chef of Piedmont Avenue’s Bay Wolf, has cooked for every single Five Star Night. Haig Krikorian, whose collection of East Bay restaurants includes Lalime’s, T-Rex, Sea Salt and Fonda Solana, has been involved since 1988. He even volunteered to manage kitchen operations for several years, though he passed the torch to Chris Lee of Eccolo last year. Wente Vineyards is another longtime contributor to the cause; this will be their 13th year of involvement. As Narsai David says, “it’s inspiring that year after year chefs are willing to donate the time and energy to produce a beautiful meal.”
David and board president Fred Zierten agree that their favorite moment of Five Star Night is the wild standing ovation the chefs dependably receive as they parade single file around the dining room after dinner.
Guests and volunteers of Five Star Night also recognize the impact of the fundraiser on Meals on Wheels recipients. Since 1987, Five Star Night has raised almost $1.5 million to provide 2,200 meals each day to homebound seniors. As other programs save money by delivering batches of frozen meals each week, Alameda County programs still deliver hot, nutritious meals daily. This is due, in large part, to funds raised at Five Star Night. “I am committed to Alameda County Meals on Wheels because they deliver freshly cooked meals each day,” David says. Zierten adds, “when you volunteer to deliver meals, you realize how much people depend on the meal and the daily contact.