What's Cooking


At last year’s challenge, Jennifer Grieco (left) of the “Grilled by the Hour” team faced off against Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews of the “Grilled from the Bench” team.

File photo/John Meiu

Annual Bench Bar Culinary Challenge fires up June 12

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

The upcoming 6th Annual Bench Bar Culinary Challenge offers a delicious mixture of competition, camaraderie and charity. The event has grown steadily each year and organizers have high hopes to continue that trend this year.

“It’s been amazing,” says event co-chair Lavinia Biasell. “We raised about $5000 at our first event six years ago. Last year we raised more than $20,000 to support three local charities.

This year’s event, at the home of Nancy Glen and Ralph McDowell in Huntington Woods, will be held on Wednesday, June 12, from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. It will mix fresh air, fresh food and friendly competition between the bench and bar with the proceeds going to the charities Alternatives for Girls, Crossroads for Youth and the WLAM Foundation Scholarship Fund. More than 200 attendees are expected.

The gathering features a grilling competition between Grilled By the Bench and Grilled By the Hour, as well as competitions in the appetizers and desserts categories. Grilled from the Bench competitors include Judge Christopher Murray, Judge Wendy Potts and Judge Mark Switalski and Grilled by the Hour features Gilbert Gugni, Ven Johnson and Kurt and Rebecce Schnelz.

“The judges compete in a dessert category and the lawyers compete in an appetizer category,” Biasell says. “And then we have the ‘live grill off’ competition, which is a team of three judges versus a team of three lawyers. We have six grills set up and they prepare it right there. They then have servers who also ask the eaters to vote. That’s where it really gets heated!” she says, offering an inflammatory pun.

The lawyers have won the grill competition every year. When asked about the dominance of the solicitors, Biasell risks winning her own award for bad pun of the year.

“They’re very good at soliciting votes!”

The winners all receive an apron that describes the name and year of the event and the category they won.

The organizers of the event are very proud that they don’t see the money raised going to overhead and marketing the way some charity events do.

“Every single dollar goes to the charities,” Biasell says.

Biasell sees no reason why the event — and its charity impact — can’t continue to grow.

“We had fewer than 100 people at the first event and last year we had about 240,” she says. “We’re hoping for at least 250 this year.”

She issues an enthusiastic invitation to anyone who has been considering attending, but hasn’t yet.

“More people would be welcome,” she says. “We’re trying to raise $25,000 this year and it all goes to charity.“

Cost is $50 and raffle tickets are also available with a chance to win vacations to either San Francisco or Charleston, S.C. Advertising sponsorships are also available. For more information, contact Lavinia Biasell at lbiasell@maddinhauser.com or 248-351-7059. The Bench Bar Culinary Challenge also has a Facebook page.

“People always ask, ‘Who are you guys associated with?’ We’re not associated with anyone,” Biasell says. “It’s a group of women lawyers and judges who wanted to do some charity work for the community and got together. Valerie Newman was sort of the ‘instigator’ and the group has gathered ever since. It’s a lot of fun and we love doing it.”