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How the menu for the Hannah Humanitarian Award Luncheon came together

May 01, 2013

Think of it as doing good while dining well.

At the May 10 Hannah Humanitarian Award Luncheon presented by the Committee to Aid Abused Women, a three-course menu will greet attendees. Nothing unusual there. But over the past three months, Committee organizers have worked with the culinary and banquet staffs of the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, the site of the lunch, to create a menu that’s seasonal, feels personal and is indulgent without detracting from the seriousness of the cause.

“We are thrilled to be able to provide a great meal,” said Denise Yoxsimer, executive director of CAAW, which provides free services to local victims of family violence. “We have a responsibility to provide the highest level of everything in what we do.”

The event will provide CAAW with unrestricted funds (many private and government grants are restricted to certain purposes). Organizers said they hoped to raise at least $40,000.

At the lunch, the Hannah Humanitarian Award is being presented to former Nevada State Sen. Sheila Leslie and the E.L. Cord Foundation. Mildred Muhammad, the keynote speaker and former wife of D.C. sniper John Muhammad, will discuss the connection between violence in her marriage and the shooting deaths of 10 people in 2002.

Wow factor

Menu planning required several meetings. The salad, a jumble of frilly spring greens, candied walnuts and Maytag blue cheese, was settled upon fairly quickly.

“Everyone thought it hit all the right notes,” said Bob Katausky, executive chef of the Atlantis, after one meeting. “The Maytag blue cheese gives people a break from goat cheese, which you see on a lot of spring salads.”

For the main course, chicken wasn’t really considered; organizers wanted to steer clear of any associations with rubber chicken charity. Duck? Delicious — but perhaps too much of an acquired taste for a large lunch with a mix of palates. Beef was a good compromise, and that choice became steak Diane with Cognac and morel mushroom sauce; spring asparagus would provide freshness and color.

“I think the perception of steak Diane is that it has more of a wow factor,” Katausky said.

Sweet trio

The choice of starch on the plate, however, was not nearly as easily decided. Mashed potatoes? Too mundane. Fingerlings, someone suggested. Homemade chips, fancy frites, pommes soufflés (air-filled potato pillows tricky to make) — the suggestions arrived from across the art of potato cookery. Eventually, the group agreed on potatoes Anna, which are peeled, thinly sliced potatoes cooked in lots and lots of butter.

“What about vegetarians?” CAAW member Heidi Loeb asked at the main course meeting. Oh, right, them.

The Atlantis kitchen, now long accustomed to vegetarian requests at events, suggested a strudel in which phyllo and Parmesan cheese were layered, then filled with roasted vegetables and a goat cheese binding. Sold!

Dessert also offered a little drama. After much debate, profiteroles stuffed with vanilla bean gelato were going to provide the sweet finish. But then organizers recently realized the lunch program would require a dessert that could be plated and rest (because of the gelato, the profiteroles would have had to be assembled just before service).

Enter assistant executive pastry chef Kayline Amos, who created a trio of opera cake, white chocolate ganache cheesecake, and a tiny strawberry cone piped with strawberry-sparkling wine buttercream.

“Mmm, people are going to like that,” said Amy Saathoff, CAAW’s director of development and community relations, as she tried the trio at its unveiling the other evening. She reached for another bite.

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