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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Lael Keane of Healdsburg was standing next to American celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse in the packed lobby of the Jackson Theater Sunday evening when the famous New Orleans-based chef spoon-fed her a bit of Cajun caviar, harvested from bowfin fish in Louisiana.

The fish eggs were part of a dizzying array of fine food and wine offerings assembled for the Rise Up Sonoma fundraising event for local residents affected by the North Bay fires. More than 600 attended the event at Sonoma Country Day School, which featured 60 of San Francisco and Sonoma County’s finest chefs and restaurants, and 40 local wineries.

Keane, whose husband is chef and owner of Healdsburg Bar & Grill and the soon-to-reopen Cyrus restaurant, said she wasn’t sure what Lagasse was feeding her at first, but “it was delicious. He can do that anytime.”

Keane said it was heartwarming to see so many people turn out for the fundraiser, a general admission event that cost $500 to get in and was limited to 650 seats. VIP tickets cost $1,500 and were limited to 100 slots.

“It’s wonderful to see that out of such a horrible experience came such a nice gathering,” she said, adding that so much of Sonoma County had come together after the fires, including Healdsburg, where she lives.

All proceeds from the event will go to local charities supporting fire victims. These include the California Restaurant Association Foundation’s fire relief fund, North Bay Fire Relief and UndocuFund, which helps undocumented families impacted by the fire recover and rebuild. Donations will also be used to fund short- and long-term housing needs through Burners without Borders, Homes for Sonoma and Rebuild Wine Country.

The $500 entrance fee treated attendees to 30 “dine & wine stations” set up in the lobby of the Jackson Theater. For $1,500, VIP guests were treated to the same food and wine stations but also received special treatment from chefs like Guy Fieri and were served foie gras and an assortment of fine wines served from magnums.

The wineries participating in Sunday’s fundraiser included Kendall-Jackson Winery, Lando Wines, Kistler Vineyards, Joseph Swan Vineyards, Benovia Winery, Davis Family Vineyards, Hartford Family Winery, Three Sticks Wine, DuMOL Winery and many more. A number of local craft breweries and distilleries also participated, including Seismic, Russian River Bear Republic, Old Redwood and Spirit Works, and Sonoma County distilleries.

Bob and Judy Cramer, who live in the Larkfield-Wikiup area, said there was no way they could have tasted all the culinary and enological creations at the event. They best they could do, said Judy Cramer, is keep track of everything they did try. The couple sampled small dishes from between 15 and 20 different restaurants. She was focusing on boutique wines she’s never had a chance to try.

Like the more than 100,000 people who were evacuated during the October firestorms, the Cramers also had to flee their home, which was ultimately spared.

“We are grateful for all the things that are being done for all the people who lost everything,” said Robert Cramer.

For Sunday’s fundraiser, Terri and Mark Stark, the owners of Willi’s Wine Bar, which was destroyed by the Tubbs fire, made scallop dumplings with crispy pork. As she provided the dumplings, several guests offered condolences and said Willi’s was one of their favorite restaurants.

She and her husband are still in “cleanup mode” and “taking it one day at a time.” She said the event was an emotional experience for her.

“A lot of our neighbors, restaurant guests who used to live in the neighborhood, have been coming up,” she said.

The fundraiser was organized by a group of local chefs, including Dustin Valete, the chef-owner of Valette Healdsburg restaurant, who reached out to chefs in San Francisco, said Brittany Rogers-Hanson, a local event planner who lost her Fountaingrove home and helped organize Sunday’s event.

“I was a little worried about the saying, ‘too many chefs in the kitchen,’” Rogers-Hanson said. “But it’s gone flawlessly and everyone is simply here to give.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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