By Danielle McFarland
February 23—Rancho Cielo held its 11th Annual Culinary Round Up last Sunday, at Portola Hotel & Spa. The main fundraiser of the year for Rancho Cielo, a non-profit organization for underserved youth in Monterey County, raised over $400.000 that evening. The Round Up set record attendance of more than 500 guests.
“One of the passions of my life has been this culinary school,” said Bert Cutino, co-founder of Ranch Cielo and co-owner/executive chef with The Sardine Factory. “These are young people who needed help, and we want to give them an opportunity in life so they can succeed.”
Cutino is referring to Rancho Cielo’s all-encompassing programs offered to youth in the areas that have grown up in and around self-destructive lifestyles. The school works to create opportunities for students with life skills development, social and family services, connections to health, and vocational training with industry professionals, among other areas of support.
On this night, local chefs manned over 20 small-plate stations wrapped along the event floor. There was one twist to the evening’s service: 35 culinary students of Rancho Cielo clad in chef whites and toques were sautéing, assembling and serving food to guests as instructed by the accomplished chefs paired with the students for the event. The teens could be seen smiling while preparing dishes with precision, and offering descriptors of ingredients to willing guests.
“There’s a mission-driven aspect of the event that I love,” said Susie Brusa, CEO, Rancho Cielo, “because the chefs are working directly with the students.”
In addition to chefs donating their time to work with the students as positive role models and mentors through the night, the restaurants and organizations they represent donated the food to be served. Brusa touted the functionality of the benefit and increased ticket sales adding to the success of the event for the students. “And all of that [funding] goes right to the bottom line…right to the kids.” The space at the Portola Hotel was also donated along with the fermented juice of 16 wineries pouring tastes for the cause. Brusa also gratefully expressed how the event would not be possible without the help of many volunteers who “do the heavy lifting” not only building up to and throughout the event.
Before paddle raising, Rancho Cielo student, Angel, took the stage to a crowded room ready to bid. He relayed how Rancho Cielo has changed his life. Angel, a teen, told the story of how, through Rancho Cielo, he had recently visited the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and had the opportunity to watch chefs butcher a whole pig. “And this would not have been possible if it had not been for Rancho Cielo… helping me build back my confidence.”
Proceeds from the event will be used to help with the cost of students’ enrollment (approximately $10,000 – $15,000 per year) provided to the students free of charge. In addition to the tuition, funds will also help to pay for meals, general transportation and in support of multiple Rancho Cielo programs and its staff as a whole.
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