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Laguna Beach’s Taste of the Nation to get help from celebrity chef Curtis Stone in fight against child hunger

Montage pastry chef Lee Smith, and chef de cuisine Benjamin Martinek, of Studio, from left, will ho
Montage Laguna Beach will host the Taste of the Nation event Sunday to help raise funds for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Pictured are the resort’s food and beverage director, Jonathan Macioce, left, and chef de cuisine, Benjamin Martinek.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Guests at the Montage resort’s annual Taste of the Nation event Sunday in Laguna Beach are in for a treat — and it’s not just the sugar snap pea soup shots the resort’s chef has put on the menu.

Celebrity chef Curtis Stone will join the festivities for a book signing and meet-and-greet.

For the record:
9:10 AM, May. 01, 2019 The original caption on the lead photo misidentified Jonathan Macioce as Montage pastry chef Lee Smith.

For the past seven years, the nonprofit Share Our Strength has brought Taste of the Nation to the Montage Laguna Beach, where people gather at the Studio restaurant gardens for small tastes from local and celebrity chefs.

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is Stone’s charity pick of the year.

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“By choosing one organization a year, I can dedicate my resources to a cause I really care about in a more focused way,” Stone said in a statement. “No Kid Hungry’s mission to end childhood hunger in the U.S. combines so many issues that are important to me, and I’m super excited to start spreading the word about their work and hopefully moving the needle to end childhood hunger.”

Montage’s top chef, Benjamin Martinek, and pastry chef Lee Smith will host the event this year, joined by Stone and six other chefs, including “Top Chef” alumnus Brother Luck and the heads of Montage Los Cabos, Chianina Steakhouse in Long Beach and Bourbon Steak at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.

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Celebrity chef Curtis Stone will attend Sunday’s Taste of the Nation at the Montage Laguna Beach resort.
(Ray Kachatorian)

Stone has appeared on several TV shows, including “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef” and “Celebrity Apprentice.” Since opening his Beverly Hills restaurant Maude in 2014, the Australia native has appeared at several events in Southern California, including the Los Angeles Times’ Food Bowl last year.

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“As a celebrity and as a chef and as a father, [Stone] understands the importance of kids needing a healthy, nutritious meal throughout the day,” said Judy Walker, event organizer and consultant with Share Our Strength.

Nearly 6.5 million children live in households where the supply of food is short, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last year’s Taste of the Nation raised $250,000 to fight childhood hunger, with a portion of the funds going to organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, according to Walker.

Five students from area culinary schools will join Montage cooks in helping the chefs at the event this year. Martinek said he tries to give each cook a chance to work with and learn from a visiting chef of choice.

“When I said Curtis Stone, all the hands in the room went up,” Martinek said.

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The Laguna Beach Taste of the Nation on Sunday will feature celebrity chef Curtis Stone and six other visiting chefs.
(Courtesy of Laguna Beach Taste of the Nation)

Martinek said Taste the Nation is the “highlight of our year” at the Montage. He began working at the event as a cook about eight years ago, but this will be his first time hosting since he became chef de cuisine in August.

“This event takes it full circle,” he said. “This is where I wanted to be the whole time.”

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Martinek is preparing a medley of dishes, with seared moonfish as the main highlight. All the food will be served on small plates so guests can munch while mingling in the gardens and visiting each chef station. Two auctions — a silent one indoors and a live one outside — will offer sports event packages, overnight stays at area hotels and winery deals. A band will play on the lawn overlooking the ocean.

“A lot of the guests that are going to be here, they have kids of their own and everybody’s kind of thinking about the charity more than anything else. The food’s just kind of the bonus,” said Martinek, a father of two. “It’s an easy sell.”

IF YOU GO

What: Taste of the Nation

When: 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Montage Laguna Beach, 30801 S. Coast Hwy.

Cost: $250 for general admission from 3 to 7:30 p.m.; $275 for VIP admission from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Tickets and information: events.nokidhungry.org/events/laguna-beachs-taste-nation

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