The Palace at Somerset Park was transformed into a foodie’s nirvana when more than 40 food establishments offered their culinary specialties at the Chef’s Night fundraiser for Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen and its culinary school on Monday, June 27.

More than 300 guests flocked to the sampling tables assembled around the perimeter of the banquet hall, moving from one to the next, tasting dishes from the abundant array of central Jersey restaurants.

Elijah’s Promise is a New Brunswick-based organization dedicated to ending the city’s struggle with food insecurity and poverty. While the organization runs a soup kitchen throughout the week, most of the money from the benefit will help fund the Promise Jobs Culinary School.

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Lisanne Finston, executive director of Elijah’s Promise, expects to yield up to $90,000 from the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

 “This fundraiser brings out the wonderful restaurants and food partners around central New Jersey who support our efforts and our work and give so generously even when they’re struggling to make end’s meet themselves,” Finston said.

The money raised will be enough to lower tuition per student from $7,000 to $4,500, making the culinary school program dramatically more affordable, she said.

But Chef’s Night benefits everyone involved.

Guests enjoy meals prepared by notable area restaurants, while the owners get a unique marketing opportunity and a chance to give back to their local communities.

And at the end of the night, everyone walks out knowing they helped an important cause.

“It gives the restaurants a chance to show what they have and what they do and it drums up business for them as well,” said Elijah’s Promise Social Services Coordinator Robert Mason. “We live on charitable contributions and volunteers and without them, Elijah’s Promise wouldn’t exist.”

Chef’s Night has proved to be a success since it started more than a decade ago.

“Its been growing steadily ever since we started about 12 years ago, when we started at about seven or eight restaurants and now we’re close to 40,” Finston said. “Our culinary school has also grown from about 30 students per year to about 70 to 80.”

New Brunswick had a large presence at Chef’s Night, with some of city’s most notable restaurants represented, including The Frog and The Peach, Due Mari and Harvest Moon Brewery and Café.

Job placement is an important aspect of The Promise Jobs Culinary School and many graduates are placed with city restaurants as well as other establishments in the surrounding area.

 Businesses that have hired the culinary students in the past, including Sophie’s Bistro on Hamilton Street in Somerset, were also at the event. Sophie’s Bistro owner, Peter Mack, is appreciative of the work Elijah’s Promise has done in the community and was pleased to be at Chef’s Night.

“I think it’s a great event and it’s a win-win for everyone,” Mack said. “Elijah’s Promise will make a lot of money from this and we’re exposing ourselves too.”

Elijah’s Promise accepts donations and volunteers throughout the year. Their next program is a week long event - Farm to Table 2011 - featuring several programs focusing on the importance of eating and purchasing food from the local community. 

More information on this and other events can be found at www.elijahspromise.net.