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Celeb Chefs Squeeze Lemons to Lemonade in Philly

Special Eater Miami correspondent and Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Brand Manager Jackie Sayet hit the road with the MGFD team for an epic chef-heavy fundraiser. Here is her exclusive account.

The mammoth destroyers of south Philadelphia’s historic Navy Yard made for an appropriate backdrop Tuesday night as 39 of the nation’s best cooks and fine beverage purveyors donned yellow to raise one million dollars for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. What chef Marc Vetri began as a small fundraiser five years ago at Osteria, his family’s North Broad neighborhood restaurant, has become ‘The Great Chefs’ event with shipyard accommodations for 1,100 to fight childhood cancer. “You’re locked in you know,” Vetri told chef Michael Schwartz. “You’re grandfathered in now. You have to come back.” Who wouldn’t? It was an impressive display of great food meeting greater generosity.

Liz Scott said it all with a touching open letter to her daughter Alex, who ran the first lemonade stand at age four to raise money for a battle with cancer she lost four years later. The legacy of her sunny spirit was honored with a radiant display of giving, from the event space donated by Urban Outfitters (it’s their headquarters) to the custom neon yellow kicks the chefs sported from Adidas.

And let’s not forget the chefs. Schwartz answered Vetri’s call and enlisted friends Joey Campanaro (NYC’s The Little Owl and Philly’s Village Belle) and Kevin Sbraga (Top Chef) to bring sexy back to his hometown with 500 plus pieces of Palmetto Creek Farms Pork Scrapple with housemade apple sauce, fried quail egg and torn herbs – playing to the crowd with a local favorite.

Behind, Paul Kahan’s housemade lonza, a cured ham from acorn-fed pigs in Iowa, was simply special, resting in marbled ribbons atop a slice of pickled green heirloom tomato, shaved fennel, pumpkin seeds and their oil, and crumbles of fresh-made farmers cheese. Next door was Roasted Pig Head from Jonathon Sawyer, its juicy meat pulled and stacked into delicate lettuce shells.

Tuna tartare tacos (Franklin Becker of NYC’s Abe and Arthur’s) and tender blue crab salad wrapped in paper-thin daikon with galangal (Ken Oringer) beckoned around the corner.

If her back station was any indication, a shrine piled the highest with offerings of dishes from other chefs' stations, Suzanne Goin's (LA's Lucques) sweetness wasn't only in her openfaced s'mores. She hosts a chef-driven Alex's Lemonade fundraiser back home in California with husband and chef David Lentz. "Did you tell Michael what I've been carrying around since the last time we saw each other?" Goin produced her phone and from inside the case a folded, weathered MGFD business card emerged -- her reminder to invite Schwartz to participate in their event on the west coast. A quick note in our calendar confirmed he'll be there November 6.

Sbraga’s contribution wasn’t just making plates and kissing babies – oh, the fans they came! -- but his silent auction item to cook dinner for 8 in the winner's home in the Philadelphia metro area? The winning bid was $30,000.

Now if that’s not reason alone to visit the ever-flowing Dogfish Head booth for another pint of Namaste Belgian-Style White Ale -- made with dried organic orange slices, fresh cut lemongrass and a bit of coriander, no less -- I don’t know what is. Or celebrate with one of Drew Nieporent’s breast pocket stogies if he’s sharing. Oh yes, Vetri, we’ll be back!---Jackie Sayet [EaterWire]