California Winemasters – Masters of Giving Back
At the annual Culinary Evening with the California Winemasters, chefs, vintners and others contribute their talents and services to a good cause: fighting cystic fibrosis.
For eighteen years, more than a thousand peo- ple have gathered one night under the stars on a studio back lot to enjoy a generous evening of wine, food and festivity, all in the hope of ending a devastating disease.
This year will be no exception. On May 17th, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will host its annual Culinary Evening with the California Winemasters, one of the most anticipated events on the L.A. social calendar, at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. Guests will enjoy food prepared by 45 internationally renowned chefs, sip wines from 68 of California’s most acclaimed wineries, and bid on an eclectic collection of five-star vacations, rare wines, private dinners and other exciting prizes in both live and silent auctions, all to raise awareness and funds for the research and treatment of cystic fibrosis, North America’s number-one fatal inherited disease affecting chil- dren and young adults.
The planning and logistics of an event of this size and vital importance can be daunting and must begin months in advance. Fortunately, when Barbara Balik, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Director of Special Giving, and Allen Balik, event founder and Co-chairman, put out a call, sponsors, partners and patrons respond with generosity, grace and enthusiasm. “Without them, there wouldn’t be an event,” Barbara Balik says emphatically.“Corporate sponsorship is the backbone of this fundraiser.”
Among the corporations that support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and its Culinary Evening with the California Winemasters is American Airlines. The founding sponsor of the “Winemasters” event, American Airlines is the single biggest corporate supporter of this event and other Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events around the country. Since 1985, the air- line has been a major donor to this cause. “Thanks to American Airlines, this event has raised sixteen million dollars for care and research,” says Barbara Balik. “When we ask for help, American Airlines always says yes.”
Corporate and individual donors are glad to give money, time and services to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation because of its effectiveness and probity. Behind the surface glitter of an event like A Culinary Evening with the California Winemasters stands a dedicated organization so efficient that 91 cents out of every dollar raised goes directly to research and to caring for those suffering with the disease.
Some of the wineries that will be featured in the event include Anomaly Vineyards, Caymus, Gemstone, Pride Mountain (all in the Napa Valley), the Hitching Post in Buellton, and the very local Malibu Wine Company.
This year promises an offering of world-renowned chefs serving up their finest dishes, including Craig Strong, the chef de cuisine at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena (formerly the Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa). As Strong explains, he is anxious to serve guests food that will both represent his hotel and make the event itself memorable.“It’s always a spring event, “ the chef reflects. “The season dictates the menu. Last year, I served duck in rhubarb. You want to serve something that’s wine-friendly, that celebrates the marriage of wine and food and the richness of California’s bounty.”
Claud Beltran, the chef at Madeleine’s, a contemporary American restaurant in Pasadena featuring wine-based cuisine, helps coordinate the event by assisting chefs in setting up and working with the American Culinary Institute to round up extra help when needed.
Recently, Beltran was touched when he, along with a group of other supporters of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, got to visit County USC hospital. “Six chefs got to go on the field trip,” he recalls. “It was very interesting—and moving—to meet people who are living with the disease, seeing what their lives are like and seeing how the money is spent and the good that it does.”
Guests will have the opportunity to bid on trips to locales like Spain, Chile, Australia, and Bordeaux, numerous wine country adventures in California,a week-long vacation for ten at an estate in PuertoVallarta,and private dinners prepared by famous chefs, including one showcasing vintages of Chateau Haut-Brion and Le Mission Haut-Brion wines dating back to 1966.The wines offered at auction will include rare vintages that are all but impossible to find now, large bottle formats and vertical and horizontal collections.
All of the donors, sponsors and guests of A Culinary Evening with the California Winemasters are supporting a respected health agency that provides funds for research and care centers across America, not just locally.The money that is raised is dispersed wherever it is most needed.
When Barbara Balik began working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 38 years ago, the life expectancy of patients diagnosed with the genetic disease was just three years. Today, it is37.
“This disease is always fatal, “ she says, “but the money from this event and others is helping us find a way to manage and treat it. All the hard work in putting on an event like ‘Winemasters’ is worth it because each year of research adds another year to patients’ lives.”
Pictured: Craig Strong’s Seared Diver Scallop and Foie Gras with Sunchoke Purée, Kumquats, and Chicken Jus. Courtesy of Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa.