By Joan Wilder
How about a braised short-rib grilled cheese sandwich, buffalo chicken rangoons, or sautéed scallops? How about some of everything?
On Thursday night, 26 South Shore restaurants, chefs, caterers, and bakers will hit the road and come together at Lombardo’s in Randolph to serve one or more of their signature dishes — for 500.
The establishments will donate their time and food for the 14th annual “A Taste of the South Shore’’ — an eating extravaganza to benefit the South Shore YMCA. With tickets at $100 each, the cooks’ contributions amount to some serious money. Including some large gifts from individual donors, officials expect this year’s event to raise upward of $90,000.
That’s a far cry from the first event in 1997, when 14 restaurants participated. This year, for the first time, the Y had to turn away restaurants.
The success and draw of the event is a powerful show of force by a united community of South Shore restaurants, chefs, and food businesses that has grown vastly since the event began.
At least a dozen of our best restaurants didn’t exist in 1997. Today, South Shore residents don’t have to make the trek to Boston to sample the work of fine chefs — and South Shore chefs are aware of that.
“We see the same faces at the event every year, the same faces we see in the restaurant four or 10 times a year — this is our target audience,” said Tosca’s executive chef, Kevin Long, who passed that information on to Summer Shack’s chef, Nick Wilson, when the Y asked him to participate.
A South Shore chefs’ network is clearly alive and well, and evident in some of the moves the restaurants make.
Although event organizers offer each participating establishment a $500 stipend for their services (a figure that doesn’t begin to match the cost of the food they give away), 90 percent of them donate it back to the Y, which adds another $10,000 to the night’s take.
“It’s a good cause — it’s our cause,” said Long.
Proceeds from the fund-raiser enable the Y to continue providing families with membership assistance and scholarship subsidies for such programs as summer camp, child care, and teen activities at its facilities in Quincy, Hanover, and its summer camp on the Cape.
“I grew up as a YMCA kid myself. . . . My parents both worked, and some years it was harder than others to go to all the programs,’’ said Tara Kaune, catering sales manager at the Scarlet Oak Tavern. “I think it’s great to be a part of an organization that helps kids go to camp and helps families be part of something that’s so special.’’
Guests, while also supporting the Y’s outreach, have an opportunity to eat and greet, meandering from table to table, where each of this year’s 26 provisioners will hold court.
Chefs credit Lombardo’s extensive kitchen facilities and generosity for allowing them to prep their dishes with relative ease. A few of the chefs will use butane burners to cook the last stages of their dishes in front of the crowd.
And while the chefs take pains to retain the quality, there’s also no problem with quantity.
“There’s always plenty of food, it’s truly a food fest,’’ said Donovan.
Long, who has been part of the event since the beginning, agreed. “Oh, you can eat and eat, there’s always tons of food,’’ said Long.
Among the participating businesses are Atlantica (Cohasset); BonCaldo (Norwood); Caffe Tosca and Tosca (Hingham), The Chef’s Table and The Winery 53 (Pembroke); Fratelli’s (Weymouth); Fuji 1546 Restaurant & Bar (Quincy); Malai Thai (Randolph); The Red Parrot (Hull); Salsa’s Mexican Grill, Scarlet Oak Tavern, Stars on Hingham Harbor, and The Summer Shack (Hingham).
And while it’s a lot of work, the event ends up being a win-win situation for the restaurants: They help local families, have a night out with other area cooks, get to talk to their customers, and find new ones.
“We don’t advertise much,’’ said Fratelli’s John Milone, who expects to send about 100 people home with a little box of pastries bearing the bakery’s name at the end of the night. “We always get some new customers after the event.’’
Every year, A Taste of the South Shore honors someone, with a short presentation a couple of hours into the evening, which runs from 6 to 10 p.m. This year, the Y will honor architect John Sheskey, who has been a driving force in the Y’s growth and development over the past 23 years.
“It’s a fun event, it really is, and they do great presentations,’’ said Joe Boncaldo, owner of BonCaldo’s, who will serve a risotto. “It’s a very nice way for us to meet a lot of people and to honor the South Shore YMCA and what they do for the children.’’
Proceeds from A Taste of the South Shore, along with the Y’s three other annual fund-raisers, directly benefited more than 5,500 South Shore children and families in need.
“Whether they’re a senior, an adult coming in off the street who wants to get fit, or a family who wants swimming lessons for their child,’’ said Donovan, “if they can’t afford it fully, we look at their finances and we give them some kind of help.’’
To buy a ticket for Thursday’s event, call Donovan at 617-479-8500, ext. 146.