When it comes to working together, the professionals of our food and wine community collaborate on a plethora of projects, events and products. Yet, this camaraderie and support transcends just business. There is no better measure of the true investment these people have into their relationships with one another than in a time of need.

You may have heard about the tragic train accident that took the life of a teenage boy, Cameron Vennard, in Kirkwood a few months ago. He was the son of one of St. Louis' most prominent couples in the local wine business, Darryl Vennard and Sue Herrin of Wine Pros Midwest. Since then, the industry as a whole has stepped up to help this family in any way possible. Fundraisers, concerts and dinners have been held in their son's honor.

And once again, on Mon., Aug. 27, we witnessed as the pillars of our restaurant community came together to donate their time, supplies, service, food and wine for a benefit for the Cameron Vennard Memorial Fund. Epicurean Extravaganza, a Gourmet Wine Dinner was held at Persimmon Woods Golf Club in St. Charles. Participating chefs included David Timney (Frontenac Grill), Chuck Friedhoff (Persimmon Woods Golf Club), Lou Rook III (Annie Gunn’s), Jim Fiala (The Crossing, Acero and Liluma), Michael Holmes (Saint Louis Country Club), Josh Galliano (chef at large), Chris Desens and John Kennealy (Culinary Institute of Saint Louis at Hickey College) and Bill Cardwell (Cardwell's at the Plaza and BC's Kitchen). Each chef created a course for the menu and then they all worked together in the kitchen to execute the entire menu and service. Wines from the Wine Pros Midwest portfolio were donated from supporting producers and paired with each dish.

"My wife and I have been friends with and/or have done business with these chefs for years; we were truly humbled by the fact that, on their one day off, they came to work as tribute to my son. We know how valuable their time is and we hope they know how grateful we are for it," Vennard says.

Although everyone involved has certainly done their fair share of wine dinners over the years, so many commented on what made this different. Rather than the traditional setup with one restaurant's style of food and one producer's wine, this dinner was a showcase of an array of cuisines and regions. Though the worked together as a team, each chef's cooking personality was evident in their respective dishes. And the wine pairings spanned global terrain.

The room was filled with the industry elite, from chefs and sommeliers to retail and restaurant owners, as well as the personal friends and family of the Vennard's. There was an overwhelming feeling in the room of celebration - of food, of wine, of friendship, and most importantly, of Cameron's life. "It was an amazing evening, as much for the great friendships as it was for the stellar courses," says Glenn Bardgett, wine director at Annie Gunn's.

Along with ticket sales and the silent auction, the evening's events raised more than $20,000 for the memorial fund. And more than just money, the couple noted how blessed they feel to have the St. Louis food and wine community "wrapping their arms around them." Perhaps Darryl's posts on Facebook that evening said it best: "Going to sleep with a smile on your face is not to be taken for granted. These chefs in Saint Louis filled my heart this evening."

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