Signature Chef’s Auction Benefits the March of Dimes

2010 Signature Chef Matt Gennuso

(Chez Pascal) with chef Andrew Shotts

(Garrison Confections)

Food, fun, and a chance to take home a Chef! The Rhode Island chapter of the March of Dimes put together a sumptuous, sparkling, heartwarming, and hilarious evening for their 2010 Signature Chef’s Auction, held at Belle Mer on Goat Island. With twenty-three chefs from some of the best restaurants in Rhode Island cooking up top-notch sample plates at various stations, the ambiance in the two rooms hosting the event could perhaps best be described as “delicious.” The hilarious part was to come later on, when celebrity auctioneer and entertainer Sir Jeremy Bell, perfectly attired in Scottish kilt (complete with bagpipes!), took the stage and began to auction off the chefs themselves (by which we mean, of course, their cooking and instructive services…)


Rick Allaire (of Tucker's Bistro)

with daughter August

First, however, guests were invited to step in from the foggy weather, have a cocktail or two, sample the hors d’oeuvres, bid on a plethora of silent auction items, and purchase tickets to participate in a raffle and a “Heads or Tails” game (which also provided much amusement later on in the night). The $50 ticket earned each purchaser a flashing pin as well as a beautiful Swarovski crystal bracelet, so each participant walked away from the game with a lovely ‘consolation prize’ even if they didn’t win the grand prize: a night aboard a cruise ship!

Newport Seen caught up with Rhode Island March of Dimes Director Betsy Akin, who shared that the success of the event was truly a testament to its volunteers. The organization was created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 with the original purpose of combating polio, but its mission of “bringing together the community” has now been expanded to working together for stronger, healthier babies by helping to prevent birth defects and premature infant mortality, as well as offering post-natal care and support for families in need of it.


Board member Maureen Phipps, vice-chair and Division Director for Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brown University, was honored as the “Volunteer of the Year” that night in recognition of her contribution to the field as well as to the March of Dimes.


As a testimony to its cause, the March of Dimes invited an Ambassador Family to the party: a couple named Nick and Patty Orabona who had been ‘touched directly by the mission’ when their daughter, Gabby, was born sixteen weeks early and severely underweight, but who eventually left the hospital in great health thanks to research and support from the organization.

Alan Phipps, Event Honoree Dr. Maureen

Phipps, MOD State Director Betsy Akin

2010 Signature Chef Matt Gennuso traveled from Chez Pascal in Providence, and other fine dining establishments cooking that night included Bacaro, Garrison Confections, New Rivers, Newport Harbor Corporation, Trattoria Simpatico, Christie’s, Temple Downtown, Inn at Castle Hill, 1149, The Pier, Gracie’s, The Mooring, Coast Guard House, Tucker’s Bistro, DeWolf Tavern, Hemenway’s, One Bellevue, Waterplace, Local 121, and Belle Mer. Ellen Gracyalny of Gracie’s in Providence not only donated her cooking staff – she also served as official Event Chair. MOD committee members seemed almost awestruck when discussing the amount of effort, dedication, and professionalism that Gracyalny brought to the fundraiser.


Michaela Matos & Event Chair

Ellen Gracyalny

After partygoers had eaten to their heart’s content (or stomach’s capacity!), it was time for Betsy Akin to take the stage and thank everyone for their support in furthering the ‘integration of science and medicine with the commitment of volunteers’ to the organization’s cause. Sir Jeremy Bell’s entrance was impossible to ignore as he approached the stage playing his bagpipes at full blast, weaving around tables, guests, and the dozens of chefs who had by then assembled on the side of the room.


Sir Jeremy immediately started with the one-liners, joking that the only culinary delight that Scotland had to offer was haggis, and that the country had invented whiskey “to wash the stuff down,” whiskey being of course Scotland’s “elusive fifth food group “ and the bagpipes “the missing link between music and noise.” He then pulled out an accordion, which he called “the second most annoying instrument in the world,” and asked for mock bids to get him to stop playing.



Hamming it up!

Then began “Heads or Tails,” a game where participants were asked to stand up and choose heads or tails as Sir Jeremy flipped a coin, indicating their choice by placing their hands on the appropriate body part until all but one person had been eliminated, leaving one winner. The auction then began, with Bell auctioning off two of the evening’s many handsome chefs: Signature Chef Matt Gennusso and Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections, for a fabulous cooked meal for eight at the winner’s home, as well as culinary instruction. Bell’s enthusiasm and comedic touches inspired guests to bid well on the various items, and the chefs also ‘hammed it up’ to get the audience in the spirit.


Nothing like great food, a little Scottish standup, some attractive chefs, a lovely setting, and a warm and friendly group of people to liven up a Thursday night – and it’s even better when the cause is contributing to meaningful and life-saving work.


Find out more about the March of Dimes organization at:


                                                     --Amanda M. Grosvenor


Delectable chocolates

Bruce Tillinghast (New Rivers)

serves ice cream

Betsy Akin & Brian Kingsford (Bacaro)

Dr. Scott Berns (Senior VP of the MOD

National Office) & Betsy Akin


Board Chair Patrice DiMario,

Donna Lapre, Nancy Rowett


Melissa Denmark (Gracie's) and some

sinful caramel-chocolate popcorn


The weather outside was starting to

get tempestuous!



The whole gang


Raffle prize


Maine State Director Erin O'Connor-Jones

& RI Director of Operations Megan Martin


Designer Jenn Z-Dolbashian & Nancy Rowett


Silent auction


Chef Matthew Varga & crew serve up

Gracie's pulled pork sandwiches


Director of Development Neil Sharpe,

Family Team Specialist Martha Murray,

Michael Murray


Jim & Oliver Hear


Dave Johnson, Juan Ferrar, and

Emily Carpentieri of Local 121


John Russell, Heather Jones,

Sandy Dellicarpini


Regina Ricci & Fonnie Cote


Volunteer Meredith Montaquilla with

brother Raymond (Coast Guard House)


Betsy Akin thanks the chefs


The chefs


Sir Jeremy Bell makes his entrance


Sir Jeremy Bell visits the chefs



Now with an accordion!


Giving accordion lessons to a guest


The "Heads or Tails" game


Auctioning off chef Matt Gennuso


Paul & Marybeth Campellone


Michael Holt & Morenike Adetula

RI Ambassador Family Patty &

Nick Orabona

Daniel Van Heusden, Kristy Lebelle,

Melisa Gipe of Christie's

Kristy & Melisa with auctioneer

Sir Jeremy Bell

Fantastic presentation by

the Coast Guard House

John Morris, Cathy Chaquette,

MaryBeth Morris, Michael Murray

Orion Dooley & Margo Petitti

Joe & Colleen McCarthy

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