Big Chefs Big Gala is one of the year’s tastiest fundraisers

Written by Mel Ulloa

What do fresh local ingredients and 35 of the area’s most talented chefs have in common? They all come together for one night of cooking for a cause at Big Chefs Big Gala, a night for food lovers. If you love food, this is the can’t-miss event of the year. What makes it different from any other fundraiser? Top culinary chefs in one room, serving a four-course meal that not only makes your mouth water, but also benefits the life-changing work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada.

An exciting menu

The evening starts with a black-tie reception featuring small bites from several of our area’s finest restaurants, then culminates in a unique four-course culinary experience featuring Bentley Ranch Meats and Sierra Gold Seafood. Some items that may be served at this year’s event include: heirloom kabocha bisque with Tahoe Blue vodka and fried lobster nuggets; flame-charred hamachi with yuzu bone broth, mirin-poached Asian pear, and crispy daikon radishes; red and green curry made with sweet shrimp with coconut, pickled red onion, and cilantro; and Lattin Farms beets with arugula and citrus, goat cheese, and tarragon. Is your mouth watering yet?

“Big Chefs Big Gala gives attendees an opportunity to taste all that our area has to offer while supporting our community’s youth,” says Derek Beauvais, CEO of BBBSNN. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such a vibrant food movement going on, led by chefs who care so much about our community.”


At the 2018 event, Team GSR plates its amuse bouche: chilled pear bisque, Tahoe Blue vodka, and caviar. Amuse bouche, which means “please the mouth,” is typically bite sized and interesting enough to prepare the palate for the rest of the meal. Photo by Tom Smedes

The four culinary teams are led by chef captains and rounded out with an additional three local chefs. They pour countless hours into Big Chefs Big Gala on top of their busy schedules, returning year after year because they know the work of BBBSNN strengthens our community.

Rubbing elbows

“I was asked about three years ago to start cooking. It’s a gathering of all local chefs at the Grand Sierra Resort, and I couldn’t say no,” says chef Tommy Linnett of The Union in Carson City and Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno.


Chef Tommy Linnett of The Union in Carson City plates Bently Ranch short ribs, polenta, carrots, and onions for Team Campo at the 2018 Big Chefs Big Gala event. Photo by Tom Smedes

Linnett grew up in the restaurant business, learning the basics from his father, who owned multiple restaurants around Lake Tahoe. Linnett traveled extensively through Argentina before attending Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. After returning home to Northern Nevada and settling in Reno, he joined chef Mark Estee as part of the opening team for Campo Reno. He is now the executive chef of The Union. Linnett looks forward to bringing the local food movement, pioneered by Estee in Northern Nevada, to Carson City. To him, Big Chefs Big Gala is a great opportunity to highlight that effort.

“It’s a great event because, for a lot of us, we get stuck in our four walls. It’s fun to get out and be around other chefs, pick their brains for a little while,” says Nick Stromatt, executive chef of The Depot in Reno. “It’s a good time being around people as passionate as we are about food but also about such a great cause.”

Prior to starting his culinary career, Strowmatt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2002. He completed three deployments in Iraq, leaving as a sergeant. His culinary career began when he started at Herringbone, a coastal cuisine restaurant in La Jolla, Calif., working his way up from shucking oysters. Strowmatt’s first job when he returned to Reno was at The Promenade on the River, a senior community in Reno, which provided him the opportunity to develop his own recipes, create unique flavors, and deal firsthand with the customers and their interactions with the food. He joined the team at The Depot in 2015 and became a great addition to the Big Chefs Big Gala chef teams in 2017.

Sweet surprise

But the chef talent is not the only highlight of the evening. In a unique twist on the traditional gala format, Big Chefs Big Gala features three different auctions: an exciting live auction, a more-than-200-item silent auction, and a delicious dessert auction.


More than 200 items will be on auction at Big Chefs Big Gala. If you can’t attend the event, you can always bid from home with mobile bidding. For details, visit Photo by Tom Smedes

“Last year, one of our pastry chefs sold a cake for $2,700,” says chef Travis Stehman of La Strada at the Eldorado Resort Casino in Reno. “It’s nice seeing her from being in the program as a Little and now being successful and evolving.”

A former Little Sister of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, chef Sara Anstett will participate in the dessert auction for the second year in a row. She has worked for Liberty, chez louie, and Coffeebar, and now can be found at Roxy at the Eldorado. Anstett discovered her culinary talent and passion when she and her Big Sister started Kittens in the Kitchen, a baking service for friends and family, when Anstett was 14.


Chef Sarah Anstett calls this cake 24-Carat Gold — a delectable chocolate chiffon cake with layers of chocolate ganache and crunch cocoa nibs, spread with a velvety caramel frosting and topped with a cascade of bourbon chocolate icing. This three-tiered cake is finished with edible 24-carat-gold leaf. Photo by Nadia Gulistani

Event details

All the funds raised from Big Chefs Big Gala will stay right here in our community to match children facing economic and social adversity with caring adult mentors. Last year, Big Brothers Big Sisters served more than 600 children in our area.

Big Chefs Big Gala will be held on Sat., Apr. 13, at the Grand Sierra Resort; tickets are available at

Mel Ulloa is marketing and public relations manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Nevada.




* indicates required