Johnathan L. Wright •
Reno Gazette-Journal - March 19, 2013
As dinner begins at Spring Splendor, things are going to be upside down. That’s when the amuse-bouche arrives, a sweet-spicy Peppadew pepper stuffed with Dungeness crab — and served on the bottom of an inverted martini glass. The bowl of the glass, facing down, shelters a spray of colorful flowers (but they’re not edible, so no nibbling).
Spring Splendor, running April 6 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, is the former Grand Chefs Gala, the annual fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada. But the newly made over event has been given a slimmer silhouette, a stylish updo and a splash of cool.
Most notably, the format in which a dozen or more chefs cooked for tables of guests they were anonymously assigned to has been replaced with a single, four-course spring menu created by Atlantis chefs.
“We realized we were taking chefs out of their element by having them cook tableside, so we thought, ‘Let’s do something else,’ ” said Ann Silver, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
There’s also a spiffed up reception featuring a $100-a-ticket raffle in which the winner splits the proceeds with Big Brothers Big Sisters, though “who knows?” Silver asked. “Perhaps they might give some of it back to us.” The 2013 fundraiser also introduces an after-party with cordials, sweets and a deejay whose sets span the decades.
One thing that remains, however, is the event’s signature, pre-dinner dessert auction in which cheesecakes in the past have gone for $2,500. This year, confections are being donated by a dozen restaurants and bakeries, including Campo, Doughboys Donuts, The Grove, Haven on Earth Bread and Bakery Co., La Famiglia Ristorante and the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.
“These are going to be elegant desserts,” Silver said, “that everyone wishes they could have a piece of.”
Bigs and Littles
Silver said the organization hoped to raise more than $200,000 at Spring Splendor. The money, she continued, would “help each Little get a good Big,” especially the 200 children waiting to be matched with an adult mentor and friend.
The money not only pays for extensive background checks, but also Big-Little activities like sports tickets, museum visits, skiing and snowshoeing.
Much of the event’s appeal rests on the dinner, and for that, Big Brothers Big Sisters turned to Atlantis chefs to design a menu that was “very spring, very fresh, very colorful,” said
Silver, who used to work for
Restaurant Associates, one of the nation’s leading restaurant groups. “We wanted a menu that created the feeling people were among friends, enjoying delicious food and wine for a good cause” (Wirtz Beverage Nevada is donating the wine).
The offbeat amuse-bouche does its part by offering bright, sweet tang and “a little prick of heat on the finish from the Peppadew pepper,” said Bob Katausky, executive chef of the Atlantis.
“Imagine when they’re all on the tables with the flowers under glass,” added Joan Gondry, the Atlantis’ director of catering and banquets, of the amuse-bouches. “It will be so beautiful.”
Spring pea soup swirled with herbed crème fraîche continues the dinner. The soup is made with vegetable stock and goosed with thyme.
“It’s like pure spring in a bowl,” Silver said the other afternoon at a tasting.
A salad of baby lettuce, pears, candied walnuts and blue cheese crumbles is tossed with guava mustard vinaigrette.
“We use guava purée,” said Dennis Houge, the Atlantis’ assistant executive chef. “It’s one of our signature dressings.”
For the main course, spring meets the grill room. Wood-fire filet mignon is nudged by mushroom ravioli plumped with wild mushrooms (hedgehog, shiitake, nameko, what have you), then spooned with porcini cream sauce. Alongside, asparagus and broiled tomato, grill classics, join offbeat looking Romanesco cauliflower. The emerald green cauliflower is composed of bumpy spirals that, in their smallest iteration, replicate the larger whole. Fractal, meet vegetable.
For folks who don’t place a winning bid during the dessert auction, there are sweets aplenty at the after-party.
“We hope the party rages on for hours,” Silver said. “We hope the after-party becomes a signature part of our event — just like the desserts.”