A Menu for Success

Story Jason Browne | Photographs Matt Garner & Birney Imes

Photographed by Birney Imes

Photographed by Birney Imes

It seems counterintuitive. How can a $75-per-ticket dinner and wine-tasting possibly put poverty in perspective?

Follow the logic: Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and education initiatives are expensive, and people with enough money to fund those initiatives are less likely to attend next year’s fundraising event if you feed them crudités from the grocery store and punch made from lemon-lime soda and pineapple juice.

“We’re hoping this event will become our signature fundraiser, and we want to grow the number of people each year,” said Lynn Phillips-Gaines, founder and president of the Starkville chapter of Bridges Out of Poverty. “It wasn’t black-tie, but it was very upscale. Very classy.”

To keep that big picture perspective, Phillips-Gaines called in Bridgett Harding of Harding Catering in Caledonia along with Starkville Discount Liquor to create food and wine pairings for the Starkville Bridges Summer Soirée held in May. The goal was to create fond memories strong enough to last until the 2014 Soirée.

Amidst an atmosphere of dimmed lighting and soft classical music courtesy of the Sumic Strings Trio — Lucy, Laura and Scott Sandifer of Caledonia — guests were greeted in the foyer of Mississippi State University’s Hunter Henry Center with a selection of fresh fruit and cheese paired with Cline Cellars Voignier as they milled around chatting and eyeing several items up for silent auction. Inside the dining room, dinner began with a warm tomato tart, spring greens and blue cheese followed by Edna Valley Chardonnay. A cedar plank grilled salmon with roasted asparagus and lemon buerre blanc sauce was served with Bridlewood Pinot Noir. Filet mignon went with Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon. And to bring it all home, dark chocolate pots de crème with whipped cream and chocolate-covered espresso beans matched with Don Miguel Gascón Malbec.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Probably not a menu many of the people Bridges aims to empower can relate to, but this event to attract a captive audience of community-minded members of the middle class is more than just a fundraiser. It doubles as a recruitment drive.

“Bridges seeks to educate the middle class on what it means to be impoverished, so that they don’t evaluate poverty from a middle class point of view,” explained Phillips-Gaines.

The two-fold method employed by Bridges educates both the impoverished and middle class on the past and present causes and culture of poverty. Classes are held for both groups, followed by pairing individuals from each groups.

Phillips-Gaines says the pairings are less a mentor-mentee relationship and more of a liaison for both individuals to continue to increase their understanding of the other. And that understanding, she says, will help some impoverished individuals and families break the cycle of poverty.

“This approach empowers impoverished people. It doesn’t strip them of their dignity. It’s to allow them to take control of their lives and actively build the kind of world they want to see,” she said.

Frustrated with conventional attempts at changing the culture of poverty, Phillips-Gaines, a 30-plus year certified financial planner and owner of Phillips Financial in Starkville, established a chapter of Bridges Out of Poverty in Starkville to try a novel approach.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Harding, a 10-year veteran caterer trained at the Culinary Institute of America, brought her own novel approach to the Summer Soirée.

“Everything was a small plate concept. Several different courses with small portions,” she said.

Harding conceived the menu based on the wines supplied by Starkville Discount. She spared no expense on the ingredients to give the event a distinctly upscale vibe.

And from what she could hear, the Soirée was a hit.

“I wasn’t out in the dining area a lot, but I could hear them from the back. Everybody was talking and laughing,” she said.

As the servers (two per table for food and one wine server for every two tables) brought dishes from each course back to the kitchen, Harding could tell neither the food or wine was going to waste.

“They loved the filet mignon, but dessert may have been the favorite,” she said.

Phillips-Gaines, who mingled and networked amongst the 140 guests attending the Soirée, confirmed the event was a smash, from the food to the atmosphere to the auction.

“It was something that, when it was over, people didn’t want to leave,” she said.


Yields 4

4 small cedar planks
Olive oil, to spread on planks
12-ounce salmon filet, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 cup white wine
Fresh herbs of your choice (thyme and rosemary work well)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup melted butter
1 fresh lemon, to squeeze over filet

• Soak cedar planks in water for 4 hours. Brush with olive oil.
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• Place salmon on cedar planks then set on a baking sheet.
• Season top side of salmon with sprinkles of white wine, melted butter, herbs, kosher salt and fresh lemon juice.
• Bake until salmon is cooked through, about 12-17 minutes. Salmon will be flaky when done.
• Serve on cedar plank with lemon beurre blanc sauce.

Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce

1-2 minced shallots
8 ounces white wine
2 ounces lemon juice
1 tablespoon heavy cream
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
Salt and pepper to taste

• Combine shallots, wine, lemon juice in saucepan over high heat. Reduce to 2 tablespoons.
• Add cream to reduction. When liquid bubbles, reduce heat to low.
• Add butter, one cube at a time, whisking first on the heat and then off the heat.
• Continue whisking butter into reduction until mixture is fully emulsified and reaches a rich consistency.
• Season with salt and white pepper.


Yields 12 servings

1 box Phyllo dough
1 box sweet cream butter, melted (do not use margarine)
16 Campari tomatoes
8 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Ground black pepper


• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Lightly butter 2 12-cup large muffin tins.
• Place stack of Phyllo dough sheets on cutting board. Cut into 6 equal-sized squares. Note: Keep sheets covered with lightly damp napkin or towel to keep them from drying out.
• Gently mold 1 square into muffin cup and butter lightly. Add second square, rotating it to make “flower.” Again, lightly butter. Add third square, rotating it, and butter. Note: Create shells in every other cup so that edges do not overlap.
• Bake shells for several minutes until edges are light golden brown. Set aside.


• Cut ends off Campari tomatoes, cut into 3-4 slices each. Sprinkle with pepper.
• Mix cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and Parmesan in small bowl.
• Layer in shells: one tomato slice, small spoonful of filling, tomato slice, filling, etc.
• Bake a few minutes at 350 degrees until bubbly and browned on top.
• Remove tarts from tin carefully; shells will be fragile.
• Serve on bed of mixed greens.


Yields 12

1 pound dark chocolate
2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla

• Place chocolate in double boiler. Stir until melted over low-medium heat. Gradually add cream, while stirring, until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
• Beat egg yolks until light yellow.
• Add about 1/4 of chocolate mixture into egg yolks, gradually, while stirring, until combined.
• Add chocolate/yolk mixture back to the remaining chocolate, stirring constantly so that yolks do not cook. Stir in vanilla.
• Pour into small glass cups or teacups. Refrigerate.

Grand Marnier Whipped Crème:

2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier Liqueur

• Beat heavy cream at medium speed with mixer until light and fluffy.
• Add powdered sugar, vanilla and Grand Marnier. Mix gently.
• Spoon on top of pots de crème.
• Garnish with a chocolate-covered espresso bean and fresh mint. Dust with powdered sugar.