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Chef competition raises funds for school for autistic children

By Sonny Long
April 23, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 22, 2010 at 11:23 p.m.

Tonja Patterson and Robert Briggs show their appreciation for the trophy they won for capturing the second annual Top Chef competition benefiting the Vine School for autistic children.

2nd Annual Top Chef Competition

John M. Pierce Jr. - Crabcakes

Dr. Bruce Tharp - Lamb crosan

Myra, Myra and Me - Crawfish pistolettes and Cajun seafood gumbo

Robert Briggs and Tonja Patterson - Mexican pork carnita

Scott McHaney - Salmon cakes

Michele Bochat - San Francisco clam chowder

Matt Reid - Steak chimichuri

The team of chefs Robert Briggs and Tonja Patterson took home the trophy Friday night, but the children served by the Vine School were the big winners at the second annual Top Chef competition at Club Westerner.

Briggs' and Patterson's Mexican pork carnita with sauce received the most votes of dishes served by the seven competing teams. More than 250 diners in attendance voted.

"It was a lot of hard work, but it is for a great cause," Briggs said after accepting the trophy. "My partner and I work well together."

Patterson, who owns and operates Good to the Last Bite catering service, said Briggs did a lot of research in coming up with the winning dish, which was made with all fresh ingredients.

"It's an authentic Mexican dish served on the streets of Mexico City," Briggs said.

The Top Chef competition is the only fundraiser of the year for the Vine School, which serves eight children with autism or related communication disorders.

The school is in its third year of existence, said executive director Erin Hatley.

"We're so small, not a lot of people in the community knew about us," Hatley said. "We needed a fundraiser that would bring people out and the community has been so supportive. Every dime we make tonight goes directly into our programs."

Last year's event raised about $31,000, Hatley said. Those funds enabled the school to open a second classroom, fund a free summer program and provide scholarship assistance.

Steven Volkmer sat on the edge of the Club Westerner stage sampling gumbo cooked by the team of Myra, Myra and Me.

"This is good," he said. "I can't wait to to try some of the others, and I will."

Volkmer said he doesn't have children with autism but he knows people who do.

"I come for the children. It's not their fault that they have special needs," he said.

Volkmer's sentiments were shared by all participants.

As Michael Hummel, who is on the history faculty at the Victoria College, cast his ballot, he said the decision was a tough one.

"Everything was delicious," Hummel said.

The night also included a silent auction and a drawing for a 42-inch TV, which Bianca Horton won.

The amount of funds raised Friday night at Club Westerner, located at 1005 W. Constitution St., was not available at press time.

During the competition, Paul and Kathy Williams made their way through the chef's stations sampling the goods.

"It's for the kids," Paul Williams said. "It's a great cause."

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