Want a recipe for a great night out? The March of Dimes' Signature Chefs Auction has all the ingredients you need. Combining delicious local food, fine wines and the fun of a live auction, the annual event, held this year on Nov. 3 at the Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, is a sure winner. This will be the 20th year for the N.C. chapter's Signature Chefs Auction in Charlotte, and division director Janice Dumsha expects the evening to raise $120,000. All proceeds go to help the March of Dimes mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Folks familiar with the annual shindig know to go with little in their stomachs and plenty in their wallets. The event offers attendees the opportunity to sample fare from some of Charlotte's best restaurants, mingle with local celebrity chefs, taste incredible wines and spirits, and bid on an array of auction items. Gene Briggs, executive chef and partner at Uptown's Blue Restaurant and Bar, is one of the culinary artisans participating this year. Briggs will be preparing a rabbit stifado over handmade noodles – a traditional Greek dish, and a perfect example of the adventurous-yet-approachable menu of the restaurant. Blue features mainly Mediterranean dishes, incorporating the cuisine of France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco. The menu changes every two months and Briggs has relationships with several local farms. Currently, many dishes are showcasing heirloom tomatoes from Fisher Farms. "Some of our most popular dishes are Moroccan," Briggs says, citing his restaurant as one of few in town where it's possible to order a lamb tagine. Blue frequently features game, another hard-to-find menu item, and one of the most asked-for dishes now is wild boar with chestnut risotto and a black currant marmalade. Briggs also loves to cook with pork, and his pork milanese is the most requested dish of his three daughters, ages 9, 11 and 16. Originally from Binghamton, N.Y., Briggs moved to Charlotte in 1991 and describes the area as a great place to raise children. "The weather is great, the people are nice, it's beautiful – there's no place like it on earth, " he says. Briggs has worked in several local restaurants and has been executive chef at Bistro 100, the Charlotte City Club and Sonoma. Briggs does not hesitate to lead and participate in community and charity events and has been a part of the Signature Chefs Auction from the beginning. And 75 percent of the charities that Blue is involved with benefit children, he says. Another large fundraiser that Briggs takes part in is Taste of the Nation, benefiting Share our Strength, an organization working to end childhood hunger. Some of Briggs' accolades include winning the “Best in Hot Food” category at the Taste of the Nation in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. He also participated in three James Beard Dinners, and numerous Chef's Best Dinners as well as the Salute to Southern Chef's Dinners for many years.The Ambassador Family for Charlotte's Signature Chef Auction is Nikki and Densel Fleming and their daughter, Lauren. The Flemings were also selected as the national March of Dimes Ambassador Family for 2011. The Flemings, of Marvin, never imagined that their first child would be born 3½ months early and weighing only 2 pounds, 1 ounce. They watched and waited while Lauren was treated in the NICU at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte for respiratory distress and underwent multiple surgeries related to a damaged vocal cord and a heart defect. Now a healthy 7-year-old, as national ambassador, Lauren traveled the country with her family to share her story and help raise awareness of premature birth and the research contributions of the March of Dimes.The N.C. chapter of the March of Dimes had an impressive record of accomplishments in 2010 that have continued this year. One major ongoing initiative is their multivitamin distribution program which trained 1,744 healthcare providers to provide folic acid education. Another 234 health departments, community health centers and other safety net providers are educating patients and distributing vitamins. The program shipped 330,00 bottles of vitamins as of spring 2010. The Signature Chefs Auction benefits this program and many other research and advocacy campaigns.Another chef participating this year is Paul Ketterhagan of Carpe Diem in Elizabeth. Ketterhagen, formerly sous chef and on staff at the restaurant for five years, took over as executive chef a little over a year ago. He attended Johnson & Wales in Charleston and cooked with Maverick Southern Kitchens, FIG and 39 rue de Jean in the South Carolina city before coming to Charlotte. Ketterhagan, in his inaugural year of participating in the event, plans to make a tomato cobbler topped with a microgreen and herb salad. He has worked in a restaurant environment for 12 years, he says, starting out as a busboy in high school. He always liked the energy of the restaurant scene and slowly grew into the kitchen. Ketterhagan particularly enjoys experimenting with flavors and cooking techniques – especially vegetables. "In the South there's a plethora of fresh veggies – it's a no-brainer," he says. That spirit of experimentation is found throughout the dishes at the Signature Chefs Auction. Sampling some of Charlotte's most innovative and delectable food while helping ensure that babies are born healthy is a blue-ribbon recipe for an incredible evening.
RECIPES:Tomato Cobbler Courtesy of Paul Ketterhagan of Carpe Diem in Elizabeth. Makes one 10-inch cobbler, serves 12.
Rabbit StifadoCourtesy of Chef Gene Briggs of Blue Restaurant.1 3 1/2-pound whole rabbit, separated into 4 leg-thigh joints and 2 loin pieces Salt Freshly ground black pepper 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 medium red onions, sliced 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced 1 1/2 cups red wine 1 14.5-ounce can chicken broth 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice 1 sachet of 1 bay leaf 1 cinnamon stick 3 cloves, tied in a bundle of cheesecloth with string 1 1/2 cups pearl onions, peeled 2 teaspoons butter 1/4 teaspoon sugar Diced fresh tomatoes, for garnish (optional) Season rabbit with salt and pepper to taste. Coat the bottom of a large oven-proof sauté pan or casserole dish with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place over medium-high heat, and brown rabbit on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Brown in batches if necessary; do not crowd pan. Remove rabbit to a platter. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add red onions and pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until onions are slightly wilted and begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, and stir. Add wine, and stir, scraping bottom of pan. Raise heat to medium-high, and boil until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 25 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add rabbit to pan with any juices from platter. Add chicken broth, allspice, sachet and black pepper to taste. Bring to boil, and then remove from heat. Cover pan, and place in oven. Let rabbit simmer for 40 to 60 minutes; while it is cooking, prepare the pearl onions. In a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 teaspoon butter, and add the pearl onions. Sprinkle with sugar, and sauté, shaking pan or stirring, until onions are golden brown on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside until ready to use. When rabbit is done (the meat will give easily when pierced with a fork), remove it to a serving platter and keep it warm. Place pan on stove over medium heat, and add the onions. Bring the pan liquid to a boil and whisk in remaining teaspoon of butter. Check for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, if desired. Ladle sauce over rabbit. Garnish, if desired, with diced fresh tomatoes.