Last September, when the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in Collier staged its first Garden to Table dinner as a fundraiser, the 100 guests who attended ended up donating an additional $6,000 targeted to purchase plants for its new rain garden.
“We staged the dinner just three days after getting our occupancy permit for our restored 1870s barn, and it was very successful,” said Kitty Vagley, director of development from Pittsburgh’s South Side.
This year, those attending the dinner Sunday will be able to help finance a proposed Japanese garden which will encircle the lotus pond with plantings of Japanese cherry trees, crabapples, trimmed evergreens, ground cover and, perhaps, even a traditional-style tea house.
“When they arrive they’ll be able to see our two new rain gardens right at the entranceway, one for the roof runoff, the other for the runoff from the parking lot,” Ms. Vagley said.
The venue, its exterior covered with cedar wood, still sports its stone foundation and original hand-hewn hemlock boards on the interior. This year, garden organizers are capping the number of diners at 80 to leave room in the center of the dining area for four of the region’s top chefs to prepare and plate the five-course meal.
At the dinner, patrons will be able to sit at a series of rectangular, linen-covered tables of various sizes adorned by floral arrangements designed by West End florist Thommy Conroy. Live music will be performed by Union Rye, a local bluegrass trio.
The dinner will begin at 4 p.m. with a cocktail reception with specially-designed seasonal cocktails and appetizers prepared by the participating chefs. These include Justin Severino of Cure Restaurant in Lawrenceville, Domenic Branduzzi of Piccolo Forno, Sam DiBatista of Vivo Kitchen and Stephen Felder of Stagioni.
Greg Nace, president of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and Chef Severino, who selected the culinary team, will deliver a welcome address at 5 p.m. followed by a family-style dinner with wine service.
“During the meal, the chefs will introduce themselves and talk about the food they’ve prepared,” Mr. Severino, a resident of Mount Washington said.
Each chef will prepare one course, plus an extra course for those sitting at the VIP table. The meal will include a roasted onion, shitake mushroom, fried egg and beemster cheese soup with marcona almond and cocoa nibs; a salad of bitter greens with bresaola (a cured meat) and a juniper balsamic dressing; a pasta course with two separate pastas; and an entree — braised rabbit with heirloom carrots and chestnuts. Mr. Severino will prepare dessert — a chocolate cake with pistachio butter and blackberry vin cotton.
In both 2014 and 2015, the James Beard Foundation nominated Mr. Severino for the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic Award. "Food and Wine" magazine named him People’s Best New Chef for the Mid Atlantic region, and “Bon Appétit” magazine named Cure one of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants in 2012.
For Sam DiBattista, chef/owner of Vivo Kitchen in Sewickley, the fundraiser dinner is the first time he’ll be a participant chef at the Botanic Garden.
“My culinary philosophy is to try to keep everything simple and use the freshest ingredients as possible,” said Mr. DiBattista, who will prepare a pork and chevre meatball as his appetizer plus the rabbit entree. “Collaborating with the other chefs is both a lot of fun and a learning experience because they’re all incredibly talented.”
The suggested attire for the dinner is “conservation casual.” Ms. Vagley said the term was used last summer when the Garden dedicated its pond and invited a representative from the Office of Surface Mines as a guest. Garden staff work with the office because it’s sited on land once used for underground and strip mining, and the invitation was passed up through the ranks until it reached Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
“When staff called from her office and asked about the attire, we told them there would be a lot of walking around outdoors, and they replied, ‘Oh, we call that conservation casual,’ ” Ms. Vagley said.
The cost of the fundraiser dinner is $250 per person. To make reservations (deadline Nov. 4): www.pittsburghbotanicgarden.org or by phoning 412-444-4464, ext. 227.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.