Annual Bench-Bar Culinary Challenge: Event raises more than $25,000 for charities

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– PHOTOS BY JOHN MEIU
 

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Lawyers and judges once again faced off over hot grills to raise money for charity at the 8th Annual Bench-Bar Culinary Challenge.

The event, held on the evening of June 9 in Huntington Woods, drew almost 300 guests and raised more than $25,000 for charity.

“Eight years ago a group of 10 women got together and decided they really wanted to make a difference in the community,” said Co-Chair Lavinia Biasell. “Valerie Newman came up with the idea of a culinary event. So here we are celebrating our eighth year raising money for worthy charities. We have a fabulous time and over the years we’ve raised more than $100,000.”

All profits benefit Alternatives for Girls, Crossroads for Youth and WLAM Foundation Scholarship Fund.

The committee organizing the event included Denise Alexander, Carol Breitmeyer, Laura Eisenberg, Nancy Glen, Elizabeth Jolliffe, Julia Perkins, and Marcia Ross.

The format each year is to pit “Grilled by the Hour” (lawyers) against “Grilled from the Bench” (judges) and may the best chef win. Guests vote on the offerings.

This year the lawyers won the grill event and Elizabeth Jolliffe won the dessert competition for her brownies.

U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh brought an international flavor to the competition with his offering of Lamb Sliders on a Baguette.

“My family was from Lebanon and I’m partial to Middle Eastern cuisine because that’s what I was raised on,” he said. “Lamb is our staple, of course.”

He added that the fundraising aspect of the gathering was a big draw for him.

“I think charity events are the most fun because you also have the satisfaction of helping people who need it.”

Competitor Kathy Zelenock certainly thought that his offering might be the one to beat.

“Judge Steeh is the one who makes me nervous,” she said. “He’s got a lamb slider going that will be very stiff competition. He’s not messing around.”

Fellow attorney Lisa Hamameh was more worried about the offerings of Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca as she looked over at a table piled high with goodies.

“The competitor I’m worried about is Judge (Lisa) Gorcyca,” she said. “She’s buying her vote with all that candy!”

Gorcyca was unapologetic about her sweet enticement.

“We’re mostly vegetarian in our house, so we wanted something healthy on the grill,” she said. “The candy and sweets table … that’s for other people.”

In addition to the good feeling that comes from helping others, guests were able to stroll and sample some extraordinary cooking and baking. For regular attendees it was business as usual, but for first-time guest Shirley Kaigler, it was an eye opener.

“Jaffe has always been connected with the event and half the litigation team is here to support it,” she said. “This is my first year. The food’s fabulous and it’s a lovely day.”

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