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Opulence ruled at this year’s A Night in the Valley. Partygoers swept down the red carpet in floor length gowns and tailored tuxes to the pulse of Spanish music as a Flamenco dancer whirled, flourished, and stomped a dramatic welcome.

Guests paused in the lobby to pick up their bidding numbers, check their coats, and check out one another. Though this is a town fraught with black-tie optional events, those who attended eagerly indulged in full-on black-tie finery, making for some glamourous people-watching. Furs, sequins, and a plethora of one-shoulder gowns created a sea of color, trumped only by the vibrantly draped halls of the Culinary Institute of Charleston.

The evening was nothing if not colorful, kicking off with a glass of rosé as guests stepped into a hallway hung with gold and crimson fabric. They were then welcomed into the kitchens, where students worked hard to replenish a massive spread of Spanish-influenced hors d'oeuvres that were as delectable as they were visually appealing. Crispy miniature empanadas nestled next to fresh, colorful seafood salad and savory canapes, and the adjoining kitchen contained even more tasty bites.

After noshing on frittata, mussels, and fried artichokes, partygoers finally made their way into the official cocktail hours, where they found themselves tempted by even more wine selections, antipasto spreads, and possibly the largest cheese table this fromage-phile has ever laid eyes on. “I can’t believe there’s even more food,” one excited gourmand exclaimed.

Finally the ballroom doors opened, and the crowd made their way amongst tables laden with exotic bouquets. Live Spanish guitar music entertained guests while servers carried out the first course, a tapas plate with cheeses, olives, and roasted vegetables. The second course featured a suquet of grouper, wild American shrimp, and Prince Edward Island mussels with potatoes, peppers, olives, and onions in a saffron broth, while the third course consisted of rack of lamb in a Rioja wine sauce and pan-sauteed Brussel sprouts. Those who somehow resisted the temptations of the cocktail hour delighted in the dessert course, a trio of blood orange flan, chocolate almond torta, and arroz con leche.

The impending food coma did not slow down bidding in the silent auction, however, and guests bid generously on some really great items, including a lot titled, “Buy the Cow, Get the Milk for Free,” which included over 200 pounds of Black Angus beef butchered by Charcuterie Master Chef Craig Deihl and a gallon of locally processed milk per week of 2012.

A Night in the Valley benefits the Trident Technical College students and the TTC Foundation, providing scholarships, books, and equipment for students and professional development for faculty and staff. Last year’s event raised a record-breaking $369,000 for the college.

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