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Women chefs 'turn up the heat' at ovarian cancer fundraiser

Thursday - 1/31/2013, 7:52am  ET

Chefs from Stratford University School of Culinary Arts in Virginia prepare a dish at the 2012 Turn Up the Heat event. (Courtesy of Hilary Schwab)

Alex Beall, special to

WASHINGTON - Armed with spatulas, frying pans and rolling pins, about 40 local women chefs and restaurateurs will cook, bake and mix drinks to fight ovarian cancer.

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's eighth annual Turn Up the Heat fundraiser Monday evening will celebrate women chefs in the D.C. area while raising money for ovarian cancer research. Bethesda, Md. resident Jack Andraka, 16, will be the keynote speaker, discussing his research and test he devised which detects pancreatic and ovarian cancer.

"The Alliance is really a voice for women with ovarian cancer on Capitol Hill and around the country," says Molly Gascoigne, director of development at the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. "We really educate women and health providers about the risks, symptoms and treatments for ovarian cancer, and we're really able connect families affected with ovarian cancer with resources and support."

Each year, 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 14,400 women die from the disease, according to the Alliance. It is the tenth most common cancer among women.

Since 2006, the Turn Up the Heat event has focused on a theme that celebrates women chefs. Ris Lacofte, owner of the restaurant Ris in D.C., came up with the idea with the Alliance.

"Our attendees just had such a good time, and there was such camaraderie between our chefs that it just became a theme we decided to stick with," Gascoigne says.

In the past seven years, the gala has raised more than $1.4 million to support the Alliance's ovarian cancer programs.

The chefs choose their own dishes to serve and donate their time and food to the cause. The proceeds raised through ticket sales, donations and auctions support the Alliance's programs, including its annual conference and Teal Strides virtual walk for ovarian cancer awareness.

"Everyone who participates in the benefit as a bidder, a participant or a ticket holder -- they've all been touched by the cancer in some way so everyone's got a story to tell," says Susan Holt, a chef from the cooking school CulinAerie in D.C. whose aunt survived ovarian cancer. Holt's assistant chef lost her sister to ovarian cancer and will also attend the event.

For her fifth year as a participant, Holt will make a bruschetta with roasted cauliflower, pine nuts and Pecorino Romano.

"It's a unique experience for us as female chefs -- we're in the minority -- so to get us all together at once is wonderful," Holt says.

The Pie Sisters of Georgetown, Erin, Allison and Catherine Blakely, and pastry chef Tori Blake will bring their cupcake-sized pies to the gala for the first time. The pies will include flavors such as bourbon chocolate pecan, apple caramel crunch and jumble berry pie -- a mix of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

"Being a woman and having a woman-owned business with my sisters, we thought that was a really good way for us to reach out to become a part of something that brings awareness to something that affects so many women," Erin Blakely says.

Mikala Brennan, who acted as sous chef at the gala for several years, will return with her business, the Hula Girl Truck, for the second time. The cause touches close to home for Brennan.

"Ive actually had a brush with (ovarian cancer) before," she says. "I've had a couple of biopsies and a few tests over the years, and it's one of those cancers that unfortunately has not received as much, let's just say, press like breast cancer and prostate cancer."

Brennan's food truck will not accompany her at the event, but she will make a dish not normally sold at the window: Chinese barbeque pork belly with macadamia nut fried rice and spicy cracklin bomb sauce.

"From an execution standpoint, all our food on the truck is prepared on a grill, and it's fresh made for the customers so it's hard to kind of do that with being in another kitchen," she says. "I wanted to do something that would still be representative of what we do but still easily executable."

Susan Soorenko, owner of Moorenko's Ice Cream in Silver Spring, Md., is participating in the gala for the fourth time.

For Turn Up the Heat, Soorenko will make burnt caramel bourbon and toffee ice cream and red hot apple sorbet.

"I have a product that melts so for me there are a lot of logistics because I have to make sure I can not only keep it cold enough while we're waiting, but also that it's warm enough for me to serve it," she says.

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