When the St. George Men’s Group Kentucky Derby fundraiser breaks from the starting gate on Saturday, May 7, the night’s delicious, Derby-themed fare will arrive with posttime perfection thanks to chef de cuisine and virtuoso volunteer Jeff Trombetta.
While St. George Men’s Group has only been in Guilford four years, the all-volunteer, hands-on good works group has already raised $140,000 to contribute to community charitable causes. The non-denominational group is based out of Guilford’s St. George Catholic Church.
In many instances, the group’s big fundraising events involve dinner or food as a draw. That’s where Jeff, a professional chef and culinary educator, comes in. This time around, Jeff heads up the Kentucky Derby kitchen, from designing the menu to directing a committee of volunteers signed on to help him cook and serve.
“For a nice meal, I’m qualified,” says Jeff, now entering his fourth year with St. George Men’s Group. “When it involves food, we produce quality, and I think people who attend our events have come to know that. So over the years, I think we’ve developed a little bit of a following, because people know it’s going to be good.”
St. George Men’s Group President and co-founder Jim Mancini came up with the idea of building an entire fundraising evening around the high-end hype that celebrates “the fastest two minutes in sports.” The group’s first-ever Kentucky Derby Dinner at St. George Church Hall is coordinated to dovetail with this year’s Run for the Roses on May 7, from gathering guests before post-time to watching the race itself, with dinner, dancing to live music, and more.
Tickets, $75, are available through Monday, May 2. The evening kicks off with a complimentary bourbon-based mint julep and horse betting (actually raffle entries), followed by live viewing of the Kentucky Derby on big screens, a multiple-course meal, judging of the best Derby-inspired lady’s hat, and dancing to live music from the Shiny Lapel Trio. It’s a BYOB affair—or in this case, make that BYOKB (bring your own Kentucky bourbon).
Jeff will be heading up a crew of 20 to 25 St. George Men’s Group members who aren’t just showing up to serve on May 7. The committee has devoted multiple hours to meeting, planning, shopping, prepping and otherwise getting ready to wow as many as 130 guests on May 7.
“We want it to be upscale service of a really nice meal with a Kentucky Derby-type theme,” says Jeff, who’s breaking out the china and linens for the table-service dinner.
“We’re serving a multi-course meal that includes shrimp cocktail, burgoo stew, a nice roast filet of beef, scalloped potatoes, asparagus, and fried green tomatoes as an accompaniment to the meal. We’re also offering salmon as an option and we even bought a special grill to facilitate the cooking of salmon. For dessert we have a traditional peach cobbler, sometimes called Peach Betty in Kentucky,” says Jeff.
“Burgoo stew is a common dish in Kentucky; it’s a mix of meats and vegetables that’s very hearty. We’re going to serve it as a hearty soup course,” Jeff explains.
Jeff takes obvious pride in his cooking and doesn’t shy away from the time and technique it takes to deliver a delicious meal. That includes the sauce topping the perfectly-cooked beef tenderloin to be served up May 7.
“I do an all-natural reduction sauce (no starch added) that takes 48 hours, because you’re reducing and extracting flavor out of bones and aromatic vegetables,” Jeff says. “We really do pride ourselves in being the group that will ‘make it good’ when it comes to the food we serve. I think it helps us to get more funding, because we get support from people who perceive the value.”
Jeff also puts his expertise to work as head chef (for the past five years and counting) of fall’s Women & Family Life Center fundraiser in Guilford, Men Who Cook. Jeff, a Guilford resident, began volunteering with that local effort some 15 years ago.
When he’s not helping out in his community, Jeff’s teaching culinary arts at Norwalk Community College. His previous experience in the field also includes 11 years as the executive chef for Yale University Dining Services and also as a chef and consultant working with local restaurants and country clubs.
Volunteering on behalf of St. George Men’s Group to raise money that helps local community causes is a unique honor for those who serve, says Jeff.
“The leadership of organization is hands-on and active, and that goes for all of our members. We put together big events to raise big money that goes back into charitable, civic-minded community causes.
“Being a member of St. George Men’s Group has been great for me, so I really have to thank Jim Mancini who got me interested in joining,” adds Jeff. “It’s worked out really well because I’m a chef by trade, and Jim has an affinity toward food events and fundraisers. So I’ve been appointed his personal chef at his events. Generally, if there’s food involved, I try to be involved.”
Jeff has been the genius in the kitchen or at the grill at many past fundraisers put on the by group and he sends a shout-out the unofficial coffee provider of St. George Men’s Club events, Cilantro Specialty Foods & Coffee Roasters of Guilford.
“The coffee we serve at our events is excellent, which is really important, and it’s always from Cilantro’s, and they always donate the coffee to us,” says Jeff.
One hundred percent of proceeds from the May 7 St. George Men’s Group Kentucky Derby event will benefit the general fund of non-profit Guilford Foundation. The foundation provides funding through grants and scholarships from endowments that “connect people who care with causes that matter to them,” explains Mancini, who also serves as Guilford Foundation board chairman.
St. George Men’s Group members can suggest fundraising ideas and recipients and Mancini brought the idea of putting on the derby event to benefit Guilford Foundation.
“What we do with men’s group is raise money to help those who are helping those in need. They’re doing the work in the trenches; we’re doing the fun stuff and trying to raise money to help them. This event kind of marries my two lives in the community,” says Mancini, a past Courier Person of the Week.
From taking on the Kentucky Derby to succeeding with other large-scale efforts including an Italian Festival (second annual coming in August), St. Patrick Dinner Dance, charity golf tourneys, and more, Jeff says the members of St. George Men’s Group embrace each new challenge.
“That’s important,” says Jeff. “It makes it fun for us, it makes it fun for people who patronize us, and makes it more profitable for people who are recipients of the funds.”
The St. George Men’s Group celebrates the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7 from 5:30 to 11 p.m. at St. George Church Hall (Whitfield Street on the Guilford Green). Tickets, $75, are available in advance only and include Derby fare (multicourse sit down meal), a complimentary bourbon mint julep, raffle, live music, and dancing. Dress is business casual or best Derby attire (with a prize for Best Ladies Hat). Ticket purchase deadline is Monday, May 2; email email@example.com to order or call 203-410-4682. Proceeds benefit Guilford Foundation. For more information, visit www.stgeorgemensgroup.org.