CANTON – Tuesday night’s Celebrity Cuisine event was two years in the making.
After the past two Celebrity Cuisine fundraisers were canceled due to COVID-19, restaurant operators and organizers basked in the scene of a busy Canton Memorial Civic Center.
More than 30 Stark County restaurants or food-related businesses were represented. A smorgasbord of tasty eats filled the arena floor — ham sliders, pulled pork, pizza, baklava, chicken wings, pasta, nachos, meatballs, risotto, fried fish, potato salad, breakfast casserole, miniature shepherd’s pies and many other samplings.
Proceeds benefited Community Harvest, a prepared and perishable food rescue program of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and part of the effort to provide hunger relief for those in need.
General admission tickets were $50. Sponsorship tables also had been reserved and sold. A silent auction and raffles raised additional money for hunger relief.
‘I’m just overwhelmed because it’s gone on this long and it’s really expanded.’
Celebrity Cuisine marked its 30th year. Mark Shaheen, of The Desert Inn, is among those who originally helped organize Celebrity Cuisine in the early 1990s.
“It’s a great event,” he said as Arabic rice and other dishes were served at the fragrant Desert Inn table. “I’m just overwhelmed because it’s gone on this long and it’s really expanded.”
Smiling as he watched people eating, drinking and mingling, Shaheen said, “We call it the best cocktail party in town.”
“Everybody’s out,” Shaheen said. “It’s just so cool to be back to normal — it’s just great.”
Helping serve food was musician Joe Vitale Jr., son of Canton native Joe Vitale, an accomplished percussionist who toured with the Eagles decades ago.
Vitale Jr., whose father was also at the event, said the event combines great food with a great cause.
“It’s a great way to (check out) what Canton all has to offer in terms of the good variety of food,” he said.
Other local celebrities who were serving food and helping out included judges, other public officials, local executives and entertainers.
Restaurants working together
Kim Shapiro, co-owner of Twisted Citrus restaurant in North Canton, said it was joyfully nostalgic to participate in Celebrity Cuisine again.
“This is two years ago, and that two years was so long,” she said. “It just feels like you’re reconnecting with people. This is always a great party event.”
Among restauranteurs, it was a collegial atmosphere, Shapiro said.
“We’re all local restaurants, and you’re always looking for an edge,” she said. “But at this event, we’re all family.”
Celebrity Cuisine transcends food and is about helping others, Shapiro noted.
“People tend to think about (hunger issues) around the holidays and during canned food drives,” she said. “But there’s hunger needs year-round.”
The event was hosted by the Tri-County Restaurant Association and Atlantic Food Distributors.
Celebrity Cuisine aids the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank
Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, estimated a crowd of at least 600 people.
“We’re excited to be back out here tonight,” he said. “Our goal, of course, is to raise as much as we can to support the mission of the food bank.
“High gas prices, the difficulties in the employment market, all of these things have made it very difficult for us to do our work throughout the pandemic,” Flowers added. “So … there’s still a lot of people experiencing food insecurity every day, and so events like this help support us doing our work in the community.
“… A lot of the restaurants over the last couple years have suffered,” he said. “They’ve suffered with a lot of closures; it’s been difficult to make it in the restaurant business, and to have this many restaurants out here supporting us tonight says a lot about the commitment of the Tri-County Restaurant Association and the people that make it work.”
Good food and a marriage proposal
Brock James, 37, of Massillon, said the event’s atmosphere was so upbeat and positive that he decided to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Tina Spielman, 37, of Massillon, accepted.
James admitted he had gotten nervous and bailed on past plans to propose at Hocking Hills and other locations. But he got down on one knee Tuesday night in the upper-level seating area beneath a Civic Center sign.
Afterward, the couple continued sampling the great eats.
“They are all really our favorite vendors,” James said.
Lillian Karovski, of Canton, also enjoyed the array of food.
“We come every year,” she said. “It’s exciting to be with people; it’s very nice to be able to converse with people. It’s good to see the community coming together for a good cause.”
Karovski and a friend had only made it a quarter of the way through the restaurant and food vendor line. Asked what her favorite food had been so far, she smiled and said, “Everything.”
Who participated at Celebrity Cuisine?
Participating restaurants were: Sahara Grille, Skyland Pines Creative Catering, Sparta Steakhouse, Swenson’s Drive-In, Taggart’s Ice Cream, TD’s Tailgate Grill, The Bistro of Oakwood, Tim’s Tavern, Walther’s Twin Tavern, Hide-A-Way Buffalo Grill/Buffalo Express Catering, K & M Coffee Service, Kennedy’s BBQ, Kozmo’s Grille, Mata Mediterranean Grill, Michael D’s, Milk & Honey, Palombo’s Italian Restaurant, Pancho’s Southwestern Grille, Papa Bears/Pizza Oven, Papa Gyros, The Desert Inn, Gregory’s Family Restaurant, and Grinder’s Above & Beyond.
The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank is a nonprofit organization that provides food to 600 pantries, hot meal sites, shelters and other hunger-relief programs serving individuals and families in Carroll, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties.
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and [email protected]