Jul. 10—A beloved fundraiser returns this month for a sweet cause.
Great Chefs 2022: We're Back and How Sweet It Is, a fundraiser for the Women's Resource Center of NEPA, will take place Wednesday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m. After the event was canceled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021, Great Chefs will happen in person this year at Constantino's Catering and Events, 1385 Lackawanna Trail, Clarks Summit.
Each year, the event features a sample of dishes from local restaurants centered around a theme, with this year's motif spotlighting the region's best desserts.
Maximum Zen Bakery, 318 Davis St., Clarks Summit, will showcase several of its vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and other allergy-friendly desserts, including Vegan Strawberry Moon Pies. They consist of a layer of roasted strawberry compote, vegan whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries in between two thin slices of vegan vanilla sponge cake made from chef Donna Vannan's vegan cake batter recipe. The moon pies are topped with strawberry icing, vegan buttercream and a fresh strawberry.
Vannan has made moon pies since she opened Maximum Zen last year, trying out different fillings depending on what's fresh for the season. The local strawberries Vannan currently gets from Philosopher's Stone Farm, Falls Twp., are "so juicy and delicious," she said.
To pile on the flavor with the compote, Vannan slow roasts the strawberries, along with sugar and lemon zest, in the oven on low heat.
Vannan makes the batter from the most basic vegan cake mix she uses in other desserts at the bakery. It's inexpensive, user-friendly, adapts perfectly to other flavors and doesn't require a lot of ingredients people may be unfamiliar with, she said. And Vannan advised bakers to let the vinegar and plant milk sit for a while or overnight if possible. Since ovens vary, Vannan said bakers should take out the cakes when they look golden brown and spring back when lightly touched.
While some people may be leery of vegan, vegetarian, plant-based and gluten-free foods, Vannan stressed they can all taste fantastic. It's also easier than ever to try these foods since substitute products are more widely available. You can find almost anything locally or online, she said.
"I don't let myself be limited by what I don't have and instead just try to work with everything I have," Vannan said. "I buy gorgeous fresh, local and organic produce whenever I can, and it really makes a difference. I get my produce at peak ripeness, and it is a pleasure to work with it."
In addition to desserts from Maximum Zen, guests at Great Chefs can sample treats from Constantino's, Hazel's Brownies, Creative Cakes and Desserts, Glenburn Grill and Bakery, Henry's on Clay/Bakery on Clay, Basilico's Pizzeria, Wegmans and Kate Simpson. The event also includes hors d'oeuvres, raffles, a WRC program, live music and a cash bar. To buy tickets, visit wrcnepa.org/great-chefs-2022.
The biggest component of the fundraiser, however, is its mission. Funds raised benefit WRC, which provides shelter, a crisis hotline, advocacy and other services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and related dangerous situations in Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties.
Vannan participated in several Great Chefs galas during her time as chef at Terra Preta in Scranton. When asked to participate this year, she immediately accepted. Vannan feels excited and honored to be part of such a fabulous event since the WRC does "such amazing and necessary work in our community."
"The compassion, care and aid that they provide is without doubt a much-needed service that helps so many women, children, trans persons — and men, also — in all kinds of crisis situations," she said. "So many people find themselves in situations where they feel alone and completely unsafe and powerless, and the WRC is a lifeline that is available to all."
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