Tuesday, October 16, 2007

MK's Michael Kornick brings Chicago culinary stars together for a great cause

Photo courtesy of Gerber + Scarpelli

To Chicago foodies, Michael Kornick is a culinary hero. But to a small group of children, Kornick’s heroism stretches far beyond his kitchen talent. In between his chef/owner responsibilities at MK and MK North and his consulting/partner duties at Nine Steakhouse, Kornick finds time to help helm the Children’s Oncology Services, Inc.’s (COSI) primary fundraiser, Toque: An Evening with Chicago’s Culinary Masters. This year’s Toque (named for that tall, pleated white chef’s hat) was hosted by sommelier extraordinaire Alpana Singh and saw a sold-out crowd of 300 guests gathered at the Chicago History Museum Oct. 11, ready to wine, dine and open their pocketbooks to help an incredible cause.

Kornick’s passion for the oncology cause began several years ago. “I had two friends. One lost their child to cancer, while the other friend’s child survived,” says Kornick, who is bubbly and enthusiastic when talking about his involvement. “When that child [Jacob Drescher, now COSI’s executive director] finished his last round of chemo, we hosted a party for him at MK.” Fast forward several years, and Kornick is spending a day at one of COSI’s many overnight camps for children with cancer. “It was life-changing,” he says. “It’s the only place these kids can go and feel normal.”

Last year, Kornick decided to get extra-involved. Taking the idea of a chef’s dinner under his wing, Kornick wrote a letter to his fellow culinary artists, explaining what his involvement had meant to him. The response was overwhelming. This year, so many chefs wanted to participate that there wasn’t room for Kornick to prepare a dish. Check out this list: Graham Elliot Bowles (Avenues), Michael Shrader (Nine Steakhouse), John Hammel and Amelia Tshilds (Lula CafĂ©), Dean Zanella (312 Chicago), Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), Randy Zweiban (Nacional 27), Kornick’s whole MK team and many more. Each chef was in charge of creating a dish for the cocktail reception, seated dinner or dessert reception, with Alpana and her assistants pairing wines along the way.

With dishes like braised rabbit with fall vegetables, hamachi tostadas and gingerbread cupcakes, the food unquestionably took center stage. But the highlight of the night was a speech by Hailey Danisewicz, a 16-year-old survivor who lost a leg to osteocircoma, a type of bone cancer. As she talked to the crowd about the ways COSI has changed her life, photos of kids at camp flashed in the background, and several guests could be seen dabbing at their eyes. But Danisewicz was equally as touched. “It’s so great to see so many people here for this,” she says. “This cause means so much to me, and they’re really helping a lot of people who need it.” She credits COSI with not only providing her with a support group, but introducing her to her favorite activity, downhill skiing, through one of the many travel opportunities the organization provides.

As dinner wrapped up, guests participated in a live auction with an auctioneer who spoke so fast and authentically he could have come straight from a county fair. Prizes like Oprah tickets, a Chicago Bulls package and a guest bartending role on Check, Please! helped raise thousands more for COSI’s many programs. And according to Kornick, the generosity of the guests -- and chefs -- is exactly how things get accomplished. “Things don’t happen without the private sector participating,” he says. “When you have the opportunity to do something for other people, something that has a long-lasting effect, you have to do it.” – Molly Each

To learn more about COSI and their many opportunities for children with cancer, check out onestepcamp.com