They call it “a feast to warm your heart.”
Caring Chefs is an annual food-tasting fundraising event organized by the Children’s Home Society of Florida. This year the event celebrated its 27th anniversary with food provided by more than 50 of Northeast Florida’s top restaurants and chefs and a sell-out crowd of over 2,000 hungry guests. All ticket proceeds go to Children’s Home Society and the event has raised over $2.2 million in the last quarter of a century! All that money towards embracing children and inspiring lives… it really is a feast to warm your heart.
This year Caring Chef was held at the Avenues Mall, which is a great venue for a food event of this scale. Food vendors were set up throughout the mall on both levels, and even with over 2,000 guests scrambling to try a little bit of everything it didn’t feel overcrowded or claustrophobic at all.
I was invited by the Children’s Home Society to attend the VIP reception and learned that event organizers begin planning Caring Chefs in January or February of each year in preparation for the October event. Multiple committees are formed and many people are responsible for ensuring the event is a sell-out each and every year.
Let’s go on a photographic journey of the [many!] dishes I tasted at Caring Chefs. I never knew supporting a good cause could taste so good!
Avilés, a restaurant housed in St. Augustine’s Hilton, served shrimp, olive, and tomato threaded on skewers.
Azurea at One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach had one of the most thoughtfully presented tables of the evening and provided a variety of cupcakes, including the perfectly autumnal pumpkin-spiced cupcake with buttercream frosting.
bb’s’ braised pork with pomegranate seeds was, in my opinion, one of the best dishes I tried.
Biscotti’s never fails to disappoint with their desserts!
Another of my favorite dishes was the risotto with duck confit and butternut squash puree from Bistro Aix. They topped the risotto with pepitas to provide a little crunch, and a sprinkling of basil for freshness.
Blue Bamboo presented their noodles in cute little box.
Café NOLA, the eatery on the ground floor of the Museum of Contemporary Arts, provided more options than most of the other restaurants and was one of my favorite tables of the night. Options included shrimp, braised pork belly, and macaroni and cheese with chorizo.
Enza’s Italian Restaurant set out plates of a number of dishes available on their menu and provided meatballs and cheese tortellini for guests to sample.
The table of the Florida State College at Jacksonville was full of a variety of dishes, including smoked duck breast and vegetable terrine.
The shepherd’s pie from Fionn MacCool’s was tasty and very hearty.
Galangal Thai Cuisine provided two winning dishes. The chicken yum-yum salad had glass noodles, bell peppers, carrots, and onions in a chili-lime dressing, and the lemongrass-crusted chilean sea bass was served with a green curry reduction on a bed of jasmine rice.
The Grape’s New Zealand lamb chops with a port-cherry reduction was my favorite lamb dish of the night (sorry about the photo – sometimes meat can be tricky to shoot!).
I went back for seconds and thirds of Havana Jax Cuban Café’s minty cuba libre.
The International Culinary School at the Art Institutes was a popular table, with good reason. The chocolate mousse and pumpkin mousse with pomegranate seeds was the best dessert I tried, and the little cones with ham and cheddar cornbread balls topped with braised pork, bbq sauce, and fresh salsa weren’t too shabby, either.
Juliette’s Bistro located in the Omni Hotel in downtown Jacksonville served macaroni and cheese with shallots and roasted garlic.
Karma served chicken vindaloo.
I loved the freshness of Native Sun’s salmon and veggie salad.
North Beach Bistro served a tasty Mayport shrimp and grilled polenta with chorizo sausage and gorgonzola fondue.
Peterbrooke Chocolatier gave guests a basket full of chocolaty goodness: chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate-covered pretzels, peppermint bark, and more.
The macaroni and cheese from the Soul Food Bistro at Potter’s House is my favorite in all of Jacksonville – they didn’t disappoint with their offering at Caring Chefs!
I didn’t have a chance to try the dish from Pusser’s but the staff working their table were very engaging and charismatic.
Saint Augustine’s The Reef served an excellent zarzuela - Spanish bouillabaisse stew – chock-full of shrimp and mussels in a flavorful tomato broth.
Roy’s lobster potstickers were cooked to order and a huge hit.
The prime rib sandwich with horseradish sauce from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse was enough for a meal in itself.
Sawgrass Country Club got all fancy and futuristic by serving sous-vide lamb loin with truffle-corn pudding, basil oil, pine nuts and onions.
How can you go wrong with Sticky Fingers’ pulled pork sandwiches?
Sweet Pete’s had a full operation going with a cotton candy machine and an assortment of sweets. I love their salted caramel.
The braised beef tacos are one of my favorite items on Taco Lu’s menu, so I was very glad to see them at Caring Chefs.
Taverna’s table was classy and clean, and the two dishes they served really stood out from the pack: butternut squash soup with sage crème fraiche, and lamb ragu with Israeli couscous.
The Times Grill served nachos with a cheesy bean dip.
Trellises at the Hyatt had a delicious and light seared ahi tuna over jicama, avocado, and tomato salad with cilantro vinaigrette.
Urban Flats offered up basil pesto and sundried tomato hummus, as well as a seared tuna dish.
Zaitoon’s curry braised lamb with rice pilaf and okra chips was another excellent lamb dish.
500 South presented seared tuna on a crisp baguette with wakame and an orange glaze.
Along with ALL that food, there were also booths serving beer and wine. $60 for all that food and drink is a steal, and knowing that your attendance helps guarantee that every child is safe, healthy, and prepared for life is absolutely priceless. Thanks for a night filled with delicious food from some of Jacksonville's greatest culinary talents!
For more information about Children’s Home Society, visit www.chsfl.org.