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'Chefs and the City' a sensory feast

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It was sensory overload—as in feasts for the mouth, ears and eyes—as HIV/AIDS agency Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care hosted its seventh annual Chefs and the City fundraising event July 15 at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago.

Guests enjoyed delicious bites prepared by 30 of Chicago's most sought-after chefs, including Ryan Pitts, Stephanie Izard, Dale Levitski and Ryan Poli. There was also be a summer fashion show presented by Maria Pinto, creative director at Mark Shale.

There was also a raffle, with tickets going for $100 each ( or three for $250 ) . Prizes included a trip for two to Los Cabos, Mexico with airfare; tickets to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo.; and gift certificates to 15 restaurants featured at Chefs and the City 2011.

In previous years, the event had been held at venues such as The Peninsula. Asked why the site was moved, Vital Bridges CEO Debbie Hinde told Windy City Times, "The event outgrew The Peninsula; it was getting to the point where people couldn't move very easily. So we wanted an area that was a little bigger so people could feel comfortable. The Ritz is a wonderful, wonderful facility and they have been so great to work with. We're lucky."

Also, Vital Bridges merged with Heartland Alliance July 1. Vital Bridges kept its Edgewater office, but the agency became a division of Heartland Health Outreach and was renamed Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care. Hinde said that the merger—which she emphasized was accomplished from a strategic instead of a financial standpoint—"is going well. Any change is difficult, right? But I think everyone is working really hard to make those changes almost invisible to the clients. I think it's going well."

Heartland Health Outreach Executive Director Karen Batia added, "Things are going swimmingly well. We are learning a great deal from one another. It's a great opportunity to merge two organizations that are doing wonderful work on behalf of the community."

DJ Sye Young provided the aural pleasures, spinning a dance mix that incorporated everything from Prince and Madonna tunes to the theme from the TV classic Sanford and Son.

Among the other highlights was the presentation of the Robert S. Mayo Extra Helping Award ( named after a Vital Bridges board member and key leader who passed away in 2009 ) to 'Chefs' co-chair Joyce Dawson.

The event closed with a VIP after-party in the Pearson Room at the Ritz-Carlton.

Text by Andrew Davis and photos by Ed Negron; more images online at

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