Yurkovich and Kanotz

Carolyn Yurkovich and Kathy Kanotz

WOMEN of Southwestern PA’s annual Symphony of Food: A Chef’s Showcase has become a signature charity event in Washington County. Each January, Bella Sera Event Venue hosts the women’s organization and its sellout crowd. “I never dreamed that this would happen,” says the organization’s founder, Carolyn Yurkovich, about the success. “Individually, we couldn’t give this much money every year, but together, which I think is the important thing, we can give a large amount of money.”

Recently, WOMEN of Southwestern PA was recognized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Western Pennsylvania Chapter as the 2018 Outstanding Philanthropic Organization.

We sat down with Yurkovich and current WOMEN President Kathy Kanotz to get a feel for WOMEN of Southwestern PA, as well as a sneak peek of this year’s Symphony of Food. Don’t read this if you’re hungry …

Carolyn, when, why and how did you form WOMEN of Southwestern PA?

Carolyn: In 1998, I was in the food business – I did a lot of recipe and menu developing for restaurants and publishing companies in particular, so a lot of times I just did the work in my pajamas all day and didn’t see anybody. I thought, you know, we really need to get a group together, and I was approached by BPW organization to start a group and we did. It was a dynamic group. Immediately we set off running. But, after we paid the county, district, national dues and state dues, we were left with $18. Plus, we had to give money to their selected organizations, and we wanted to keep it local – and that’s what we did. So, a year later, we became WOMEN of Southwest PA: women organized to mentor, empower and network. The women, they do get it done. In that first year when we were BPW, we started with Art in the Round, featuring local artists, who were able to sell art and make it public, and it was really very nice. We could have gone on with it, but physically, it was a lot of work. So we needed to come up with something that was a little simpler for us, but I don’t know if we did …

Kathy, when and how did you get involved with the organization?

Kathy: My husband’s partner, Carol Gehrig, was a longtime member, and she encouraged me to join. At that time, I was working as a nurse practitioner and was putting in a lot of hours a week. I did join for a year or two and decided it really wasn’t enjoyable because I was too busy. So, I retired about five years ago and I joined again. It’s just wonderful to be in an organization that is benefiting so many people.

Geographically, what is the reach of the organization?

Carolyn: Washington, Greene, Fayette and Allegheny counties.

Kathy: So it’s quite a big reach. Last year, we gave out $53,580 to all of these nonprofits. Unfortunately, there are more nonprofits that apply than we have money to give. So, each year we try to earn a little bit more money. None of us take any salary whatsoever.

Talk about the fundraising that you do.

Carolyn: We’ve given $577,952.52 over the last 18 years. I never dreamed we would do this, and we have a call for grants that starts in the spring, and then people apply and we have a philanthropic group that decides who gets the grants. We only have the one fundraiser, and so we put our all into that. The first Symphony of Food was in 2008. We serve a five- to six-course meal, and all of the chefs are showcased. We’ve consistently sold out

Kathy: The chefs donate their time, and the food and the restaurant owners also, the jazz band donates their time, the photographer donates time – everyone donates their time.

Who are the chefs this year and what can guests expect?

Kathy: Chef Ben D’Amico from Giant Eagle Market is doing cheese and charcuterie with accompaniments. Mediterra Bakehouse is doing assort breads and rolls. Corporate chef Janie Irvine of Toscana Brick Oven is making wedding soup. Chef Giuseppe Di Gristina from Bistro at Bella Sera is creating a wonderful winter salad. Chef Joe and chef Carmela Giamella of La Tavola Italiana are preparing pasta terra sole, with homemade hot sausage and roasted red cream Bolognese. Executive chef Stephen Grottenthaler of Au Grotten’s Café and Catering along with Vilka Bistro’s executive chef John Curry are each doing an entrée that will be served together (at press time, plans were still being finalized). Chef Stephen Mueser of Signature Desserts is doing individual white chocolate raspberry cheesecakes to cap the meal off. We are extremely thrilled this year with the chefs that we have and what our dinner is going to be.

For tickets or more information on WOMEN of Southwestern PA’s Symphony of Food, visit womenofswpa.org.

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