The going price this year to be "Chef for a Day" at LaSalle Grill was $2,000.
The item was one up for auction at the 20th annual Chefs' Showcase. There were plenty of silent auction items. And other chefs were sold. But mostly people came to Morris Inn to eat.
Fifteen restaurants or caterers set up tables to serve samples. Fat Cam's at Garver Lake, BHG Chinese Bistro, Bistro 933 and others offered samples, but so did culinary students from Ivy Tech State College and the Elkhart Area Career Center. Four of the 15 - Centerplate Catering, Sorin's at the Morris Inn, Legends and Notre Dame's chefs - all proffered samples that were part of the $50 ticket.
As one of the judges with Michele Scherpenberg of Epicureans Unite and Jeff Rea of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, I tasted nearly everything.
Ciao's Restaurant won the judge's choice award for its cuisine. The Italian restaurant at 119 N. Michigan St., South Bend, brought a big range of desserts, all of them amazing.
Sorin's at the Morris Inn won the people's choice award. It offered pork belly with wasabi cream, a peppadew stuffed with boursin and crostini with brie and truffle.
Centerplate Catering at Notre Dame, overseen by Chef Kip Peters, won the judge's presentation award for how he used salt, including cooking beef tenderloin on it, and other nice touches at its booth.
It was a great window into some of the food being served at restaurants I don't often get to visit. Bistro 933, in the Hilton Garden Inn at 53995 S.R. 933, offered a duck taco that was stellar. The Notre Dame chefs made me wish they'd cooked for me when I was in college. The bananas foster and the grits with roasted corn were great. And the shrimp and grits that Cameron Horne turned out at the Fat Cam's booth were very good.
My favorite taste of the day was the pork belly from Sorin's. As hot as pork belly is right now, I'm surprised it was the only appearance. But it was enough.
About 300 people attended the event. The money will be split between the Junior League of South Bend and the American Culinary Federation's South Bend chapter, according to Karey Circosta, who's part of Junior League.
The Chef for a Day experience was one of a number of chef experiences auctioned. It'd be fun to work with Eamon McParland at LaSalle and have dinner with friends over five wines coursed by the sommelier Zoran Lazarevic.
The final numbers are being tallied, but it was one of their best years, she said.