Eating Out For A Great Cause

Last week, I had the pleasure of dining at Pheasant Run for a second time and for a really great cause. Pheasant Run's Harvest and Jambalaya restaurants are participating in the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization's "Restaurant of the Month" program where a percentage of the proceeds from a specific menu item are donated throughout the entire month. The Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization (OCSA) works to expand public awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer in an effort to contribute to the early detection of this deadly disease, and by doing so, save lives. They educate women and their families on the silent symptoms that are often ignored and can all too quickly turn into advanced stages of cancer that are very difficult to treat. To help spread awareness for this month's program, I had the opportunity to interview Chef Tiffany Tooker, the mastermind behind this dish and all the others at Pheasant Run.

1. How did your love of food begin? When did you decide you wanted to become a Chef? My parents had a restaurant/café in New Jersey, with 60 seats and a pub. I started cooking there at 14 where my love for food, cooking and creating began. I started to bar tend at 18 and owned a hot dog wagon at 16 in front of my parents place. I went to culinary school at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Maize Landing, New Jersey supporting myself by working in Atlantic City 35 hours a week while attending school 40 hours per week.

2. What inspires you when you sit down to create a new menu? New trends, Internet, trade magazines and the Food Network. I like getting inspired from shows such as Chopped and Top Chef and then making my own twists and creations using ingredients from what's currently in season.

3. Do you have any favorites off the current winter menu? The Veal Pork Chop Milanese. It's a bone-in, 12-ounce, tenderized, lightly breaded chop with Panko breadcrumbs, seasoning, sautéed spinach and roasted red potatoes and a balsamic reduction.

4. You've made quite a mark as a Chef. Was there anyone who inspired you when you were starting your career or is there someone that you still look up to today? My mom. My mom was adopted and brought up in an Italian background in Brooklyn. She worked 12-14 hours a day in the family restaurant, cooked and managed the operations but still had time to make a family meal on Sundays all while raising four kids. Her meatballs are the best.

5. Tell us one of the most memorable moments you've had as a chef. Have you gotten the opportunity to cook for someone special? Did you get to travel somewhere that you always dreamed of? What is something you'll never forget? I competed in a top chef competition in Philadelphia and won 2nd place out of all other hotel chefs in the city. I just recently cooked a memorable meal for a few of the stars from Sons of Anarchy who were at the hotel for a conference. S.O.A is my favorite show and I was excited to meet the cast and cook for them. I was also just awarded the Executive Chef of the Year for Hostmark for the 2nd time out of over 40 hotels worldwide.

6. What is your favorite ingredient to cook with? AND, what ingredient do you like to cook with the least? Easy answer: Garlic! I put garlic in everything. Dislikes: cooking with Curry

7. If you have a personal story that tells us a little bit about why you are supporting OCSA or passionate about its cause, feel free to tell us. If there's nothing in particular, that's completely fine. Just leave this question blank :) The cause is close to my heart because at age 31 (8 years ago) my stomach began bothering me. It was hard and my muscles ached. I thought it was from working out but also began losing weight very quickly. After I went to the doctor for a scan, they called my mother to tell us we needed to come into the office right away. They discovered a 22-centimeter mass in my stomach. The first hospital we went to wouldn't touch it. After 3 hospitals, I finally met with cancer specialists who would agree to operate. The surgery was scheduled to take place in 3 weeks, but after one week I became so ill and in pain they rushed me into surgery. They successfully removed the tumor, but discovered that it was cancerous while they were in the operation room. They also removed one of my ovaries. It ended up being a 12-pound tumor. The removal was clean and thankfully I did not have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. I remember how difficult it was on my family. I never worried about myself, but always about them. Recovery was the worst part. I couldn't wait to get back to work. Frequent checkups with my doctor were critical in the first few years post surgery, but I passed my 5 year mark and remain healthy and cancer free.

I just want to take a second to thank Chef Tiffany for sharing such an emotional and personal story. Cancer is something that touches every one's lives somehow and getting ahead of it is so important. What I love about OCSA is that they have a mission to get ahead of it. Know the symptoms and talk to your doctor. Don't wait until the last minute when it's too late. Life is already short. We can't afford to make it shorter. For full information on the symptoms of ovarian cancer, visit OCSA's website. If you feel that you or a loved one are showing symptoms, please talk to a doctor. You risk nothing by making an appointment but you risk everything if you choose to ignore it.

On a lighter note, if you are in the St. Charles area anytime soon, stop by Pheasant Run's Harvest and Jambalaya to try the dish benefiting OCSA. I got a taste last week and it was absolutely phenomenal. You can't go wrong with pasta. 20% of the proceeds from the menu selection below will benefit OCSA throughout the month of February. It's also on their Valentine's Day menu so (hint hint)...

Tiffany’s Wild Mushroom Ravioli Served with Grilled Asparagus, Eggplant and Roasted Sweet Tomatoes, Tossed in a Truffle Scented Three Cheese Brandy Cream Sauce with Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese ($27.95 Entree Only — $35.95 with Chalone Pinot Noir)

Chateau Chalone Pinot Noir Montery California Fragrant aromas of ripe black cherries with hints of earth and mild smoke from toasted French oak barrels. Fine tannins and balanced acidity enliven the vibrant finish. A perfect partner to any dish with wild mushrooms.