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Local Chefs Cook From No Ordinary Pantry

Chefs create delicious meals with food found in the pantry of West Valley Community Services in a cooking challenge on Nov. 19.

Editor's note: Tickets to this event are still available. Click here to purchase tickets

To four local professional chefs, rule number one in the challenge dubbed Chefs of Compassion: Cooking for a Cause states "All items in the recipe must be found in the food pantry." But that pantry isn't in their professional kitchens. Instead the fixins come from the pantry at West Valley Community Services—the same pantry that provides food for more than 2,000 low-income clients each year.

"We were given 10 minutes to shop for ingredients in the pantry. We had to shop just as the clients would, meaning we were limited on the number of items we could gather," said Chef Nanci Wokas, chef and proprietor of Cooking with Class, who teaches cooking at , Sur La Table, and at private and corporate events.

Chefs of Compassion is a cooking and dining event during which four courses will be served, each chef charged with conceptualizing one dish prepared only with ingredients from WVCS's pantry. A film crew documented the shopping and prepping of the courses in a video which will be shown on-screen at the event.

The chefs taking on this fun, and fund-raising, challenge include Wokas; Carlos Sanchez, executive pastry chef from Parcel 104 in Santa Clara; Chris Schloss, executive chef from Cin-Cin Wine Bar in Los Gatos; and Jay Essadki, executive chef of Morocco's Restaurant in San Jose and Mountain View.

For her shopping  basket Wokas snagged a loaf of French bread, some milk, eggs, vegetables and a can of sweet potato puree.

"I really was not sure what I would be putting together but when I got in to my kitchen I decided to create a smoke ratatouille with a savory sweet potato bread pudding," she said.

Sanchez had ground turkey in his basket, which may seem a bit of a challenge for the pastry chef, but he was undaunted.

"I always believed that a (savory) chef needs to know pastries, and the pastry chef needs to know savory dishes. They must know both sides," he said.

The Colombian-born chef says diners will find a bit of his homeland in his dish.

"I put it together with something in my roots; a dish where I'm coming from," he said.

Sanchez has some familiarity with this type of challenge, he said, experience that came when he competed for a spot in Bravo TVs Top Chef cooking show four years ago. Sanchez wasn't a finalist, but he did well and learned from the game.

Wokas said the challenge made her "reach into my culinary strengths to complete this task."

The challenge culminates on Nov. 19 at Addison-Penzak JCC of Silicon Valley in Los Gatos where the dishes conceptualized by the chefs will be prepared by the chefs and the WVCS catering team.

Two awards will be given; one a Judge's Choice, given by a panel of judges on a five-point scale for taste, appearance, and creativity; and the second category is the Popular Choice awarded to the chef who garners the most votes from attendees at the event.

The judges include Carolyn Jung, editor of FoodGal.com; Tracey Lee, CEO of Dishcrawl, Sheila Himmel, former food critic for San Jose Mercury News, Abby Schwarz, south bay manager of Yelp, and Linda Zavoral, travel editor for San Jose Mercury News.

WVCS provides direct assistance for basic needs such as food and clothing, as well as referral services for such things as transitional or affordable housing, or emergency financial assistance to the communities of Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and West San Jose.

Tickets to the event are $100 per person, or $1,000 for a table of 10. The event begins with registration and cocktails at 5 p.m., dinner and program at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.chefsofcompassion.org

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