Sipping rosé at the house of Amy Todd Middleton to benefit The Sylvia Center.

NEW YORK - I love dining for a good cause, and there could be no better one than The Sylvia Center. Founded by Liz Neumark, the C.E.O. of the catering company Great Performances, it features a farm to table program with the goal of teaching children how to eat well. They work with about 2,000 young people a year in both New York City and Columbia County between the ages of 7 and 20, exposing them to a wide variety of comestibles and instruction on the basics of preparation.


I was fortunate to recently attend one of the dine-around evenings in support of the Center, where gracious hosts opened their doors to guests who were treated to a spectacular meal by a celebrated chef, created of course from the best local bounty this summer has to offer.


Chef Jeremy Bearman of Rouge Tomate.


At the home of my Sotheby’s colleague Amy Todd Middleton, I feasted on an exceptional meal that was orchestrated by chef Jeremy Bearman of Rouge Tomate. I have dined at Rouge Tomate several times since they opened in NY – a branch of a restaurant that started in Belgium about 70 years ago, and promotes health through food. Indeed, not only does Rouge Tomate rely on locally sourced ingredients, but they also have a culinary nutritionist on the staff.


Talking with author James Frey.


Sipping rosé and warming up the palette with hors d’oeuvres including stuffed zucchini blossoms, oysters, and an awesome cheese platter, we sat at an intimate table for fourteen, with stunning views of Central Park. My dinner partner was Amy’s husband Curt and the writer James Frey, who regaled us with great stories over dinner. He introduced me, via You Tube, to Hennessey Youngman, an art critic of sorts whose videos, “Art Thougtz,” reminded me very much of Ali G. But conversation aside, there was serious food to eat with enlightened commentary at each course by Jeremy.


The stuffed zucchini blossoms.

We began with a chilled corn soup seasoned with jalapeno, basil, and red shiso peppers. It was rich, mellow and velvety, and tasted of corn at the peak of its season. Whenever I am composing a menu at this time of year, I am torn between starters featuring corn or tomatoes, but Jeremy had the ideal solution with a second course of an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, with feta of course, in basil sherry vinaigrette. But more was to come – an Amish country chicken with a Southern twist – collard greens, buttermilk grits, and okra, in a habanero jus. Jeremy is having a love affair with chilies, and indeed, it seems that every cooking magazine, restaurant menu, and TV food show is featuring chilies as the hottest (no pun intended). The finale of the meal was a local peach tart with Greek yogurt scented with lemon verbena. It sounds relatively healthy, but the peaches were enveloped in a sugary pastry crush that was addictively good.

 
Host Amy Todd Middleton and author James Frey.

My only disappointment was that I could only attend one dinner. As I looked through some of the other menus prepared by Bill Telepan, Laurent Gras, Dan Silverman,, Dan Kluger, David Waltuck, Andrew Carnelli and others I was missing out on the likes of grilled loin lamb chops with smoky eggplant flan and rainbow Swiss chard;  or a tres leches cake with berries and peaches; or pan roasted long island duck breast with faro, peas, fava beans and roasted apricot-tarragon sauce;  or fried oysters with curry pickled cucumbers and red caviar. You get my drift.