Cuisines editor Virginia B. Wood reveals who came to dinner on February 5, what they ate, and where their money went, and updates readers on changes in Austin's culinary world.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

On February 5, I was a guest at one of Austin's classiest annual fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand the wellspring of generosity and talent that goes a long way toward defining this city's "quality of life." Every year, a group of 20-25 couples volunteer to host dinner parties in their homes to benefit Project Transitions (454-8646). Dinner guests pay $75 to attend parties with such themes as An Evening in Paris, Rosedale on the Rio Grande, Gina's Big Night, or Silence of the Lobsters, and then all 250 guests gather at the end of the evening for desserts and champagne at the West Austin home of Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker. Thanks to the generosity of the party hosts and underwriting from the Walgreen Co., the event generates nearly $20,000 in revenue for the nonprofit AIDS hospice and support organization.

Those of us who attended Gina's Big Night in the comfortable home of Gina and Ken Burchenal were treated to an excellent Italian meal inspired by Big Night, the popular 1997 film. We dined on courses of insalata caprese, bruschetta con caponata, minestrone, and risotto with broccoli rabe and asparagus to the music of Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday. Our congenial hosts presented the dramatic main course, Il Timpano, on a rolling table all its own. Slices of the drum-shaped pasta dish filled with ziti, spinach, meatballs, and sliced eggs were then served with a tangy marinara. After much wine, pasta, and song, the group adjourned to the Walker home (just across the street) to be dazzled by the dessert offerings donated by the owners of Ella's, Ranch 616, and Rather Sweet Bakery plus exotic fruits and cheeses from Austin Produce & Specialty Foods. Rebecca Rather's tiny signature desserts, American Beauty Chocolate Cakes, Lemon Meringue Tarts, and Raspberry Shortbread Bars were a huge hit with the crowd. Contact the Project Transitions office to volunteer as a party host for next year or have your name added to the mailing list.

Wholesale Merger

In January, Heart of Texas Produce owner Craig Thibodeau merged his wholesale produce and specialty foods company with Danny Davis' Austin Produce to form Austin Produce and Specialty Foods (8110 Springdale, 929-8474). The new company will provide top-quality exotic and regular produce as well as a specialty foods product line of about 2,000 items.

IACP Scholarship Awards

Every year, the International Association of Culinary Professionals awards scholarships to qualified applicants wishing to further their culinary educations. This year, two deserving Austinites will receive IACP funds. James Lee Brockman, a third-generation Austin restaurateur, will use his scholarship to study at the French Culinary Institute in New York City beginning this spring. Culinary Academy of Austin director of education Glen Mack recently received notification that he will be awarded funding for three months of culinary study in Italy, which he hopes to begin in the late fall. Austinites interested in applying for IACP scholarships can contact the national office at 800/928-4227 or check out their Web site at

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Project Transistions, Ella's, Ranch 616, Rather Sweet Bakery, Austin Produce & Specialty Foods, Heart of Texas Produce, International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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