By Denise Sautters | Photos By Scott Heckel
Come Feb. 5, Carl Falcone, the chef at Bender’s Tavern in Canton, will be in Indianapolis celebrating his win Tuesday night at the 2011 Taste of the NFL fundraiser for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Jon Jacob, son of owner Jerry Jacob, said he and Falcone were “thrilled” with being named the Grand Champion of the event and were looking forward to being in the national spotlight during the 2012 Super Bowl’s national Taste of the NFL competition. On Tuesday night, they served sea scallops with a sun-dried tomato butter sauce and lobster bisque.
Bender’s was one of 19 restaurants and country clubs represented at the event. It was a first for Dennis Devies from Brookside Country Club, who said he was looking forward to competing with the other contenders.
“I love the competition,” he said while preparing his food.
Next to him was last year’s winner, Mark Pullin, who was hoping to pull out another win this year.
“It is a must,” he said of winning before the event. Win or lose, though, he said, “There are so many good chefs here. I am excited and I think I have a great chance of winning again this year. We will see.”
NFL great Jim Taylor was a favorite on the football field when he played for the Green Bay Packers, and he continues to be a favorite at the Taste of the NFL.
“I always look forward to coming back to Canton,” said the Hall of Famer who was enshrined in 1976. “This is such a great cause and as long as they will have me, I will be here to support the food bank.”
Fellow NFL great Leroy Kelly, enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, agreed with him.
“People don’t understand how great the need is for people,” he said. “It is rough out there for a lot of people and if it wasn’t for the food bank, many would go hungry. What they are doing here tonight, raising money to feed the hungry, is great. As long as they keep inviting me back, I will be here.”
Also on board Tuesday night was Molly Meeker, co-owner of Meeker Vineyard, a family-owned winery in Sonoma County, Calif. Meeker has been platinum sponsor of this event for the past five years.
“I’m from Youngstown,” she said, explaining this is one way she can give back to Northeast Ohio. “We are very supportive of food banks.”
She worked closely with David Esber of Esber Beverage, distributors for Meeker wines. The two mingled among the 450 or so attending the event, offering wine-tasting tips throughout the event.
Linda DeHoff and Lara S. Wilson were cochairwomen of the event at which the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank hoped to raise $135,000 to support hunger relief efforts in northeast Ohio.