Autism Speaks to Local Chefs

Photo by Laura Watilo Blake

The biennial Autism Speaks Chef Gala in Cleveland, set for 6:30pm-11pm Saturday, July 28, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is one of the hottest tickets in town, not only for attendees but for the chef participants. The roster of more than two dozen chefs are selected by Cleveland celebrity chef Michael Symon and comprise a diverse group of the city’s culinary talent.

Michael, Jim, and Jen Sammon are the event’s 2018 honorees. “My best friend Jim Sammon has children affected by autism, and so do people in my own family,” Michael said. A pair of local chefs who have championed the event since its inception and share Michael’s passion for Autism Speaks’ mission will again be supporting the cause.

Brian Doyle, whose gluten-free restaurant concept Café Avalaun was born of dietary concerns related to his son’s autism, was among the team that first pioneered the event in 2013. Brian attended the organization’s fundraiser in New York City in 2008 and immediately petitioned the leadership of his local chapter to coordinate something similar. He says there was nearly no support for his family back in 1998, when his son, Logan, first received his diagnosis. “My son is 21 now, and it was very isolating to deal with the situation without the community and information that’s available now because of Autism Speaks,” Brian said.

About a decade after Logan’s diagnosis, John Selick, senior culinary manager of University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center and chapter president of the American Culinary Federation, learned his son, Michael, was on the spectrum at 18 months old. Autism Speaks became a resource for Selick, and he became an ambassador for the nonprofit, preparing food for chef galas in Cleveland and New York. “I want my son to see me supporting Autism Speaks and feel special, knowing that this is for him,” John said of the charity event he considers most meaningful to him.

The event will start with culinary tastings and a silent auction, followed by an interactive dinner demonstration by Michael and fellow Food Network Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. The evening will conclude with a live auction featuring unique prizes and culinary packages.

The following chefs will be participating: Derek Clayton and Summer Genetti (Michael Symon Restaurants); Tim Bando (Grove Hill); Joseph Lang (Moxie the Restaurant, Red the Steakhouse); Britt-Marie Culey (Cleveland Convention Center); Brian Doyle (Café Avalaun, Sow Food); Brandt Evans (Pura Vida, Blue Canyon); Anna Harouvis (Anna in the Raw, Good to Go Café); Jeff Jarrett (US Foods); Douglas Katz (fire food and drink, Provenance); Matt Mytro and Paul Minnillo (Flour); Brian Okin (Polpetta); Carl Quagliata and Zach Ladner (Giovanni’s Ristorante); Fabio Salerno (Lago, Salerno Group); Jonathon Sawyer (Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, Trentina); John Selick (Sodexo, University Hospitals); Anthony Scolaro (111 Bistro, Trio); Mark Sherry (J. Pistone); Karen Small (Flying Fig); Vishwatji Nath (Urban Farmer); Jill Vedaa (Salt); Eric Wells (Skye LaRae’s); Rocco Whalen (Fahrenheit, Rocco); and Eric Williams (Momocho, El Carnicero).

Event tickets to Autism Speaks Cleveland Chef Gala are $250. For more information, visit autismspeaks.org.

—Tricia Chaves