He was the kind of guy you couldn’t ignore as he stood in the doorway at the Aqua Turf, suave but not showy in his tux, and clearly happy to be at the American Liver Foundation CT Division’s annual “Flavors of Ct” fundraiser.
And it didn’t matter that he was only 11, because Christian Mercado, who suffers from liver disease, knew how to work a room as the evening’s featured guest.
“I’ve worn tuxes before,” the North Haven youngster explained, easily handling yet another interview as hundreds of people arrived for the black-tie event featuring sophisticated sit-down wine-paired dinners prepared by a who’s who of celebrity chefs and served at lushly set tables worthy of any food/wine/home magazine cover. “I’m excited about tonight,” said the North Haven middle-school student. “I can’t wait to speak to the audience.”
“He wants to be an actor,” grinned his mother Nancy Rodriguez who explained her son has an immune system problem that results in his liver not working correctly. “As you can see, he’s such a ham.”
While the 11-year-old was the center of attention, the celebrity chefs who stepped up to cook and serve their gourmet dinners were the stars.
Among them, some of the Hartford area’s favorites including Carbone’s Vinnie Carbone, Besito’s Tim East, Cugino’s Mario Cirikovic, Peppercorn’s Dino Cialfi, Café Colt’s Harry Schwartz, Infinity’s Dan Fortin Hot Tomato’s Kevin Ruoff and The Willows Leo Bushey.
Bushey, once the chef at several area restaurants including Acqua Oyster Bar, The Simsbury Inn and The Hartford Club once again showed his cooking skills and then his table setting expertise as well, creating a decorative presentation that was all edible.
“You know how I am about farm-to-table and not wasting anything,” he grinned about the display at his Bristol restaurant’s table that won “Best Flora Table Design.” Besides an array of edible spring flowers including miniature daffodils and lavender piled in rustic containers, and crudités cleverly doing dual duty as part of the table’s decorative diorama, the ”dirt” that served as the table runner was actually edible savory and sweet chocolate cake crumbs.
Millwright’s, whose owner/executive chef Tyler Anderson also served as the evening’s Honorary Chef, won “Something Out of Nothing” award for his table. The Wharf at Madison Beach Hotel, whose table was reflective a tony summer dinner under a pergola, won the “Best Guest Giveaway” award thanks to the canvas tote bags full of gifts on each guest’s chair.
Clear Channel’s Renee DiNino served as master of ceremonies.
“I like to come to this just because sitting in this room and seeing so many beautiful tables filled with so much good food makes me want to go home and try harder in my own dining room,” laughed Grace Watkins, a pharmaceutical representative who was part of the crowd. “I think this is one of the prettiest and tastiest fundraisers there are in the state” she said. “And it all benefits a very good cause.”
Other prize winners were: “Most Elegant Table Design,” Bin 100 in Milford and Mambo in New Haven;“Most Witty Table Design” La Tavola in Waterbury and “Best Overall Table Design,” Caseus, New Haven.
For more pictures go here.