BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – For close to a decade, Fort Madison’s Main Street has been serving up five-course meals as part of an award-winning fundraiser in downtown Fort Madison.
After foregoing the spring edition of Sensational Chefs, Main Street volunteers opened up SiP, who offered the space for the Saturday evening festivities to the warm smells of food prepared celebrity chef Savanna Collier of Fort Madison.
Collier, the coordinator for the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce, didn’t just fill the role. She has a couple years of formal training, a lifetime of informal training compliments of mom Sheri Hawk. Hawk was in the kitchen with Collier helping put the event together.
The night’s courses consisted of an opening appetizer of cucumber hummus bites, then followed with a spinach, tortellini, and sausage soup. Then guests were treated to a salad that Collier said she found on Google as something different she hadn’t created before.
“It was a salad I found online and I thought it looked really good. It has pears, goat cheese, craisins, and maple balsamic dressing over spring greens,” Collier said. “The dressing is very different and I was nervous about it, but it is actually very good.”
A garlic butter asparagus went with the entree of Chicken Cordon Bleu and twice baked potatoes, which were followed up with caramel cheesecake bites and coffee.
“Chicken Cordon Bleu was one of my favorite meals growing up because of my mom. It’s kind of a spin off hers and that was one of my favorite things of hers growing up,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do the chicken, but the other things I Googled because I wanted a lighter soup due to the heavy entree. The salad I just wanted something different and this is pretty different.”
Aside from hanging around her mom’s apron in the kitchen growing up and then more as an adult, Collier graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in hospitality management. That degree she said focused on restaurants, but she’s used the degree to foster a career in event planning with various organizations including the Amana Colonies and now the Fort Madison Chamber.
“I’ve kind of always been in the kitchen because of my mom. She was always cooking when I was growing up,” Collier said. “And then when I went to college I took a lot of food courses at Iowa State. I did a simple food class and then a quantity food course, where we actually ran a restaurant in the bottom of our main building. We ran that and I really got into cooking then.”
She said planning and preparing the meal, which she said took about 10 days to pull together, brought her back to her college experiences and she realized how tough running a restaurant can be.
“And I don’t know that I could do this all the time. It’s a lot of work. It’s intense. Events ar,e too, but my gosh this is really tough,” she said.
Denicia Wright, the coordinator of Fort Madison Main Street, said information about the event went out about three weeks ago and the meal sold out quickly.
Several local businesses jumped in to help the event as well. Lee County Bank was the premier sponsor of the night. Fareway and Hy-Vee donated red and white wines and Swed Coffee provided after dinner coffees for the patrons.
Members of the Fort Madison Main Street board served the courses and worked the rooms, talking about the downtown program.
Main Street Coordinator Denicia Wright said the event will raise about $1,500 outside of the sponsorships.
“This sold out in less than a week and, in fact, we oversold. We were only supposed to sell 25 but we end up selling 30, which was fantastic. It made it a little tight in there than we expected,” Wright said.
She said plans are in the works to bring some different ideas to the fundraiser in order to freshen up the event.
“We usually do two a year, we had to cancel the spring and just did the fall one. But next year we’ve got some new things geared up to breathe some new life into it and hopefully we’ll have a really great chef in the spring. We’re waiting to hear back from him.”