Fifteenth Annual Garden Party Will Have Guests ‘Moonlighting in Morocco’

The annual Garden Party, hosted by philanthropists Jennifer and Robert McNeil, is a key fundraiser for the Brandywine Health Foundation.

By Chris Cooper

Noted philanthropists Jennifer and Robert McNeil will once again welcome more than 500 guests to their Springbank Farm in Coatesville for the Brandywine Health Foundation’s 15th annual Garden Party.

The event, on Wednesday, May 24, benefits the Foundation, which has given more than $16 million in grants and scholarships to the Coatesville community. The Garden Party also kicks off the Foundation’s annual Strawberry Festival, a four-day celebration on the grounds of the Brandywine Hospital beginning June 1.

The theme for this year’s Garden Party is “Moonlight in Morocco,” according to Jill Whitcomb, the Foundation’s Vice President for Development and Communications.

“Every year we’ve had a fun and unique theme,” she said, “and I have an amazing and dedicated organizing committee that will do a fabulous job making our guests feel like they’re entering a festive party in Morocco when they first arrive.”

Along with cocktails, a light dinner, and fireworks, the evening will feature the popular Battle of the Berries, sponsored by Univest Banking, Insurance, and Investments. Berry-themed desserts from six local restaurants will be graded on taste, presentation, creativity, and use of berries by a panel of judges who will then select the Culinary Excellence Award winner.

Guests in attendance will get to voice their preferences by choosing the winner of the People’s Choice Award. Interestingly, no restaurant has ever won both awards the same year.

“It’s very different how the judges look at things, and how our guests look at things,” said Whitcomb. “The competition is a lot of fun and many people actually start their evening with dessert and then move on to the spectacular dinner prepared by John Serock catering. The competing restaurants donate the ingredients and their time and culinary talents, which is extremely generous and adds a great deal to the success of the event.”

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One of those restaurants is The Gables at Chadds Ford, as owner Ann Kolenick is happy to contribute to the evening’s festivities.

“It’s an amazing event and a great way to get your name out there, be part of the community, and give something back,” she said.

Her trained pastry chef is still experimenting with this year’s berry recipe, but guests will most likely be offered a variation on a strawberry s’more cupcake, which is topped with a strawberry marshmallow and then toasted.

Amani’s BYOB of Downingtown is the reigning People’s Choice Award winner, but Chef Jonathan Amann is not resting on his laurels.

His entry this year – an Egyptian semolina cake with strawberry curd, lime syrup, and whipped cream – was offered to guests at his restaurant to critique during two recent weekends, thus helping him fine-tune the ingredients and presentation.

“I don’t like flying into anything blind,” he said. “To an extent, our guests in the restaurant are our guinea pigs, but not in a bad way.”

Although Patrick Byrne of the General Warren Inne of Malvern is not giving away his restaurant’s recipe for this year’s Battle of the Berries, his dedication to the event and to the Foundation is no secret.

“This is most likely our 14th competition, and I have been to each one,” he said. “Overall, the committee, the attendees, and the support staff at this event are tip-top. As much as I attend and support them because of the great causes the Foundation supports in the Coatesville community, winning is not that important to me.”

Other restaurants participating in the Battle of the Berries will be the Duling-Kurtz of Exton, the Desmond Hotel in Malvern, and ZING Sushi of Sadsburyville.

As in the past, however, the real winners will not be the chefs, but those in the nine municipalities of the Coatesville Area School District who will benefit from the funds raised by the Brandywine Health Foundation at the Garden Party.

Click here for more information or to purchase tickets.

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