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Kelly Liken cooks up her winning Top Chef pork carnitas for a cause

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One of the most frustrating things for Top Chef fanatics is that we never get to taste -- or appraise -- the winning dishes. But now Vail's Kelly Liken, one of the past season's finalists, is making her winning braised pork carnitas for a cocktail benefit in support of the Food Express Backpack Program, which provides food for children in the National School Lunch Program to take home on Fridays. (With school not in session over the weekend, many of these children had been going hungry.)

Liken's concern for children and child nutrition isn't some trendy, chef-y impulse. She's deeply involved in a year-round greenhouse program that provides healthy food for schoolkids, educates them about growing and seasonality, puts on cooking demos, and -- working with the Vail Farmers' Market -- incorporates lessons in such things as nutrition, people skills, even economics.

"People think of Vail as very affluent," she said when we interviewed her for our Kelly Liken Chef and Tell. "They forget there are people who clean the tourists' rooms and wash cars, and these people's children are in elementary school. Statistically, this is a very hungry county."

Just $25 ($20 if you bring a nonperishable food donation) gets you the carnitas, such other Top Chef-inspired appetizers as curried shrimp and cucumber soup, and two drink tickets. There's a cash bar, and music by rock-blues singer Kevin Heinz.

The event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 9, at Restaurant Kelly Liken, 2 Vail Road; for more info, call 970-479-0175.

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