The Austin Chronicle

Eat. Drink. Empower Dinner Benefits SafePlace

By Carly Yansak, August 19, 2013, 9:30am, On the Range

On Saturday, Aug. 24, Executive Chef and Austin Chopped champ Erica Beneke is hosting Eat.Drink.Empower at Max’s Wine Dive. It’s a gathering with two worthwhile purposes built around one main theme: supporting women.

Eat.Drink.Empower is a culinary benefit showcasing the talents of Austin's top female chefs while raising money for SafePlace, a local non-profit that provides shelter and services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The evening will consist of a happy hour followed by a five-course meal, where each dish has been expertly paired with a complimentary wine. I recently sat down with Chef Beneke to discuss the event.

Austin Chronicle: Where did the idea for the event originate?

Erica Beneke: It was a planning session with some of our PR folks. It was almost a year ago at this point, and I was talking about community involvement stuff that I wanted to be a part of and we got to talking about building a community of female chefs in Austin, especially some that people don't know about because they are a more behind the scenes. And it just went from there.

AC: What are you hoping guests will take away from the evening?

EB: First and foremost, I'm hoping to bring more exposure to these female chefs whose names people don't usually know. They are often the backbones of the restaurant kitchens, but aren't talked about as much. That is number one; number two is to raise a significant amount of money for SafePlace. They'll have representatives here as well to inform everyone about the work they are doing. At the end of the day, I want people to just enjoy the evening.

AC: Why did you choose SafePlace?

EB: Partially because it's a charity that is personally close to my heart for a few reasons, but then also just in general because they help out a lot of women and their families; this being an event for female chefs, it just kind of made sense to me.

AC: Although female chefs are still not as prominent as male chefs, that trend seems to be changing some. Why do you believe that is?

EB: I really do think it is changing, as the community is building. It's becoming a little bit easier to rise as a female in the kitchen and it certainly helps having other women who you can look up to and even people that you know to talk to about it. It's one of those things that it's kind of mind blowing that people still can't wrap their heads around it. When I say I'm a chef, I still get, "oh, a pastry chef?" I'm not sure what is causing that stereotype to stick around, but I think that as more women are becoming chefs, it becomes easier for the next generation to do so.

AC: What advice would you give to a woman trying to make her way up in the culinary field?

EB: A couple things. I think most importantly you have to really, really love what you're doing and have a lot of passion. That is the number one thing that has gotten me through working in tough kitchens and for tough people. And to have a thick skin is important but that's true for anyone, not just female chefs. You have to be 100% sure it's what you want, because otherwise, the difficulties won't be worth it.

AC: What are you most looking forward to about Saturday?

EB: Honestly, I am looking forward to working in the kitchen with six other super talented female chefs. I'm just excited to have the opportunity to be able to do an event like this and put this spotlight on them.

According to Chef Beneke, the talented ladies got together for a brainstorming session to make sure that the individual courses they had designed would flow appropriately. Here’s who and what guests will see:

Bridget Bishop, sous chef at Westwood Country Club.

Hors d'oeuvres: a balsamic braised short rib on a rosemary crostini with Shaft blue cheese and pickled figs; slow roasted pork belly and watermelon skewers with grilled green onion chimichurri; and Peppadew peppers with basil goat cheese custard.

Abby Yates, sous chef at Swift's Attic

First course: miso cured redfish; edamame-horseradish puree, grilled cucumber, pickled grapes, and shaved radish.

Alexis Chong, chef de cuisine at Sway

Second course: melon soup with coconut cream.

Kenzie Allen, sous chef at Searsucker

Third course: quinoa salad with roasted carrot marshmallow, corn crema, beet powder, and okra chips.

Erica Beneke, Executive Chef at MAX's

Main course: braised lamb, chorizo spiced foie gras, yellow mole, sweet potato, and cherry pickle.

Hannah Love, Pastry Chef at Perla's and Clark's Oyster Bar

Dessert trio: raspberry tartlet; layered flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream and brûléed banana; and pistachio profiterole, caramel, and meringue.

If reading the menu make your mouth water, reservations can be made online, or by calling the restaurant. Tickets are either $150 per seat, or $1,500 for a table of eight, but it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to support a worthy cause while discovering the next generation of Austin’s culinary elite.

Eat.Drink.Empower Aug. 24, 6:30-9:30pm

MAX'S Wine Dive

207 San Jacinto Blvd 512/904-0111

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