Famed Canadian chef and restaurateur Michael Bonacini flew into town to lend his culinary star power to a $1,000-a-plate benefit dinner for The Ottawa Hospital, held Thursday at Gusto Worldwide Media CEO Chris Knight's TV studios.
The exclusive event saw a crowd of 33 feast on an eight-course Italian dinner using recipes from the Bonacini's Italy cooking series created by Gusto.
Knight and his team co-hosted the fundraiser with Michel Drouin, president of Charlebois Trépanier, a Gatineau-based insurance company with an office also in Ottawa. The dinner marked a meaningful way for the cancer survivor to celebrate his 65th birthday with friends and family.
“My wife [Denise Drouin] was asking me, about six months ago, what do you want to do for your birthday,” the Franco-Ontarian told OBJ.social. “I thought about it, because sometimes we do big trips, and I said, ‘I’d like to do an event and give back for prostate cancer’.”
Drouin joined forces with his good friend Knight, who is open to occasionally using his stylish new TV studios as a venue for experiential-based fundraisers.
Guests dined that night on roasted quail breast with wine-soaked plums; lobster spaghetti; braised Salt Spring Island lamb with saffron and artichokes; Le Marche-style lasagna; Lac Akos walleye with truffles, leeks and potatoes; spinach ricotta gnudi with sage brown butter; mini rum babas; and chocolate salami with Italian goat cheese and grapes.
Candles, soft lighting and jazz music in the background created an elegant ambiance.
The vino was donated by Domaine Roy & fils, a winery in Oregon. Drouin is part of its large group of Quebec investors. He's also an investor in Gusto, as is Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York, who was there with his wife, Joanne.
Attendees included one of Drouin's doctors, Ottawa urologist Dr. Brian Blew, and Andrea Timlin, a development officer with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.
Tickets to the dinner disappeared in just four days, causing organizers to boost the number up from 26. “We could have sold double the amount,” said Drouin, who was expecting to raise a net total of close to $45,000. Everything was donated that night, and additional donations were also made by Drouin's out-of-town friends.
The proceeds support The Ottawa Hospital’s robotics program, which allowed Drouin to undergo minimally invasive surgery and to recover much faster than with traditional surgery, after he was treated two years ago. He's now cancer-free. “The service that I received at The Ottawa Hospital was fantastic,” he told OBJ.social. “We’re very lucky that they have the robotics program for prostate cancer.”
It didn't take any arm-twisting to get Bonacini to participate in the benefit dinner, guests heard.
"Without hesitation, he said, 'Just tell me where and when and I'll be there'," said Knight, who called his good friend "one of the most influential chefs of his generation".
Bonacini is co-founder of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality, the group behind such acclaimed restaurants as Canoe and Auberge du Pommier in Toronto. He's also a judge on CTV's MasterChef Canada. He was engaging, enthusiastic and knowledgeable as he interacted with guests in the same studio where his Gusto series Bonacini's Italy was taped. He also wowed the room with the unveiling of a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano that weighed between 34 and 38 kilos.
“To get the evening kicked off to a great start they have brought in the big cheese, and I don’t mean me,” he joked.
Bonacini used his cutting tools and physical strength to crack open the massive wheel, which was produced in the same northern Italian region — Emilia-Romagna — where his father was born and raised. At the end of the night, everybody got a chunk to take home.
“No more parmesan in the green shaker,” joked Knight of the pre-grated cheap knockoff stuff that’s sold in grocery stores.