Celebrity chefs hold banquet to help North Bay fire recovery

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- It's not yet Thanksgiving, but today, celebrity chefs cooked a feast fit for a king as a way to give back to the fire-ravaged Wine Country communities whose farmland gives them so much.

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Famous Bay Area chefs put on a fundraiser for North Bay fire victims Tuesday evening and took some time to share their Thanksgiving secrets for splendid side dishes just in time for turkey day.

Tyler Florence, the chef behind Wayfare Tavern, led the effort and promoted the banquet on Instagram. With 500 seats at $500 per plate, it could raise $250,000 for charities helping to rebuild Napa and Sonoma Counties.

"It's the most incredible thing I've ever put together in my life," Florence said as he looked out across a picture-perfect vineyard at a single long table stretching as far as the eye could see.

"I've always appreciated the dinner table -- and this is the longest one I think I've ever sat at," said Tanya Holland, chef at Oakland's Brown Sugar Kitchen.

The long table -- and its location -- are no accident. Printed on the pavement and on white signs shaped like arrows amid the rows of grapes, are "Napa County" in one direction and "Sonoma County" in the other.

"We wanted to do in the vineyards, and we wanted to do it right on the 50-yard line between Napa and Sonoma," Florence said.

The location was kept a secret. Luxury buses brought guests to the meal from all over. But the ingredients didn't have to travel as far.

"Every ingredient can come from 20 minutes from where you stand -- whether it be meat , cheese, produce," said Duskie Estes, co-creator of Zazu Kitchen & Farm and Black Pig Meat Co.

But just like the gourmet food on the menu Florence designed for the occasion, the banquet itself comes with a modern twist. Some of the folks who sat down to dine were donors, but others were some of the very people they're giving back to.

"Here's to the first responders, everyone," said the president of Visit California, her glass raised high in the air.

A slew of first responders were able to attend the special meal thanks to donors who bought seats for them and also bought seats for some for families in need.

"I got goosebumps coming in when I first saw it," said Steve Herzberg, who's a volunteer EMT with the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.

Don Jones runs the 911 center in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and says he was surprised to be offered a ticket. For all the recognition given to police and firefighters who serve the community during disasters like last month's wildfires, Jones say dispatchers are often forgotten.

"Taking a plethora of 911 calls during those first 24 hours -- it's nice to see that kind of recognition," he said.

Sitting with old friends and making new ones amid the fall colors of Wine Country, the guests were also surrounded by film crews, photographers and the faint buzzing of drones flying overhead. While it will likely raise a quarter of a million dollars to help fire ravaged communities, the event is also a priceless photo opportunity for Visit California, which shouldered the cost of putting it on.

"Lives were lost, and so were buildings and other structures," said Visit California president Caroline Beteta. But economically speaking, "the images from the media across the world really did even more damage."

Beteta says these new images are a step toward changing the message: "We want the world to see that Wine Country is here and open for business for everyone."

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