Every spring since 1984, hundreds of people from across the region have flooded onto Southeastern’s campus for a bountiful evening of food, wine, shopping, and comradery. This great mix combines in perfect balance to create an unforgettable night—and a powerful positive impact.
Chefs Evening, organized by the Southeastern Foundation, has established itself over the past 35 years to become one of Southeastern’s most beloved—and tastiest—annual traditions.
Some visitors extend the experience by attending the more intimate precursor event, the President’s Toast. This power hour of hors d’oeuvre delicacies and specially chosen wines in the campus residence of President Dr. John L. Crain serves as an appetizer for the main course.
For the main event, the Student Union Ballroom is elegantly decorated for the evening, and surrounding the room’s border dozens of popular restaurants and caterers proudly present their culinary creations. The air is filled with both sweet and savory aromas, while bartenders freely poor fine wine and cocktails.
In a side space outside of the ballroom, where a view of sunset over Southeastern’s campus pops from a wall of windows, attendees are met with a shopper’s paradise. Tables are covered with a diverse array of silent auction packages that range from jewelry and art to opportunities for exploration and adventure. A table of raffle items is also present, giving attendees an additional way to take home a shiny reminder of the evening.
After guests have enjoyed a round or two of drinks and a few warm bites, an emcee takes center stage and the energy in the room is elevated even more as patrons begin taking part in the high-end live auction.
Rounding out the event is an awards presentation for the best cuisine of the night. As attendees sample all that is on offer, they have the opportunity to vote on both their favorite main dish and dessert. Each chef brings their “A” game in hopes of taking home a coveted Taster’s Choice Award. The 2019 Best Entrée recognition was garnered by Downtown Hammond’s Blackened Brew for seared sesame tuna on a fried wonton with a wasabi crème fraiche and teriyaki honey drizzle, while The Cakery captured Best Dessert for presenting four different moist and flavorful signature cakes.
The food, drinks, bidding, and conversation continues throughout the remainder of the evening, creating a special night out in the heart of Southeastern’s campus.
But while those in attendance are savoring all that the event has to offer, they are also contributing to and making an impact on something much bigger than one celebration, and even bigger than the University itself. They are helping bring to life the dreams of current and future Southeastern students and supporting the success of emerging graduates. Proceeds from Chefs Evening benefit vital student scholarships and academic programs.
“Chefs Evening has become a tradition of the University and an essential part of the Southeastern Foundation’s mission to secure financial resources for the critical needs of our students and academic programs,” said Vice President for University Advancement Wendy Lauderdale. “Students benefit from Chefs Evening in many ways. Funds raised help provide tuition support through scholarships, academic enhancement and career preparation programs, research opportunities, and state-of-the-art tools and facilities that promote the best learning opportunities. Contributions from Chefs Evening help elevate our students’ competitive edge.”
Scholarships help students better focus on their studies, and can even be the financial tipping point to help them complete their college education—potentially forever changing the course of a life. Other students are able to improve their grades and grasp previously elusive concepts through extracurricular tutoring, and are better prepared for the job market thanks to resume and skill-building support. Students with a hunger for discovery and research are allowed to follow their passions, in the process contributing to not only their future careers but our universal body of knowledge.
Better facilities and equipment allow for the expansion of programs and hands-on learning. One example is the purchase of new high-definition and remote studio equipment for the Southeastern Channel, allowing Southeastern television, video, and film students to gain real-world experience. By increasing their skills and familiarity with this now industry-standard equipment, these students will be met with broader and stronger job prospects upon graduation.
Through sponsorships, ticket sales, auction proceeds, and raffles, the 2019 Chefs Evening, with an attendance of over 525, raised more than $130,000. Since it first began in 1984, the event has pulled in millions of dollars in support funds. These big numbers allow for huge impact.
Yet there are still more ways in which Chefs Evening creates positive vibes. The event promotes and brings together the rich culinary traditions and innovative chefs of Southeast Louisiana, with a particular focus on the sometimes overlooked Northshore area. This spotlight on one of the region’s most unique, beloved cultural aspects helps local businesses and chefs showcase their talents, residents embrace a sense of pride in both their heritage and home, and visitors discover the true culinary heights that the region has to offer.
“Chefs Evening is more than a great night out within our community; it’s also a great way to positively impact Southeastern, which is an anchoring economic as well as educational entity in the region,” commented Todd Burrall, senior vice president of government and institutional banking for Regions Bank, the Premier Sponsor of the 2019 event.
Food brings people together. And Chefs Evening serves as a highly anticipated annual event for people from across the region and beyond to come together and share in their love of good food—and love for both Southeastern and the community in which it resides. From students to restaurants and individual guests to the community as a whole, everyone benefits.
The popular Southeastern tradition of Chefs Evening continues to live on and grow. March 29, 2020, will mark the event’s 36th year—and another opportunity for everyone to experience some of the region’s best food while creating a positive, far-reaching impact in support of Southeastern and its students.
For tickets to the next Chefs Evening, visit southeastern.edu/chefs, and stay tuned to Southeastern Foundation’s Facebook and Twitter pages for more information. For questions, press inquiries, or to participate as a sponsor or vendor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sheri Gibson