Garces Gives Back


    Blogger Stephanie Singer catches up with an elite squad of culinary do-gooders at a Garces charity event. 

    Every Sunday in Hebrew school, I remember passing around the white tzedakah tin can. The importance of giving back was taught to us from a young age, encapsulated in the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, which means "repairing the world."

    My philanthropic roots haven't really stopped growing. I've seen my parents volunteer their time for Jewish nonprofit organizations and synagogue events. For the past six years, I volunteered as president of Mill Creek Farm board of directors.

    It's nice to see how other people champion causes that they are passionate about.

    Yesterday, I attended the Garces Family Foundation's annual gala, "Think Local/Give Local," at the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts. The event was created and hosted by José Garces, the chef/owner of Amada, Tinto, Village Whiskey and Distrito, and his wife, Dr. Beatriz Mirabal Garces.

    According to the foundation's mission statement, "The Garces Family Foundation provides programming and financial support to Philadelphia’s vibrant and growing immigrant community to ensure access to the care and education they need to actively contribute their talents to making this city truly world-class. The foundation currently runs three of its own programs that improve the health, language, cultural skills, and nutrition of Philadelphia immigrants with support of their Luna Farm."

    A few hundred attendees paid $200 per ticket in order to sample dishes, drinks and dessert from more than 20 local chefs and restaurants. My favorite was a sauteed eggplant and pea dish with fresh goat cheese from Amada that used fresh ingredients from Garces' Luna Farm. With such a collaborative approach to philanthropy uniting our town's top chefs instead of a typical fundraising event, it was no surprise that the crowd was mainly 30-somethings — the next generation of philanthropists in action. 

    I caught up with Marc Vetri from Vetri, Osteria, Alla Spina, Amis and Pizzeria Vetri, a similarly charity-minded chef with his own foundation, Vetri Foundation for Children, to find out why he participates in the gala.

    "We like to help out one another," he explained simply. "José asked us to participate and we immediately said, 'Yes!' "

    Upstairs in the Kimmel's Dorrance H. Hamilton Rooftop Garden, a four-course meal was served to VIP guests. Michael Solomonov from Zahav, Federal Donuts and Percy Street, plated the main course: veal pastilla, a spanikopita pocket filled with veal sausage, with help from Greg Vernick from Vernick Food + Drink.

    Vernick, who prepared the first course of tuna tartare nicoise for VIP guests, is the newest member of this elite squad of culinary do-gooders, and he seems to be climbing up the Philadelphia chef ranks rather quickly.

    "I'm still junior varsity," he acknowledged. "This was an honor to be asked to do."

    I asked him if this sense of a cooking community was one of the reasons why he made the move from New York City back to his roots (he is a Cherry Hill native).

    "I never expected the camaraderie," he said. "It is so welcoming and friendly, which makes it even more enjoyable to be back knowing that we have a community here." 

    To All Mitzvah Machers,

    The Bubbi Project