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Urning Their Keep Aptos Academy organizers get their Greek on for the Spring Social March 22.

This Ain't No Bake Sale

Aptos Academy goes Greek for another of its innovative international fundraisers

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Like most schools hit hard by the economic recession, the Aptos Academy throws events to raise money for its programs. But an independent school dedicated to progressive, individualized learning can hardly fall back on a standard bake sale.

Instead, for the past four years the Aptos Academy has worked with the Cocoanut Grove to create a unique immersion into another place and time.

"We really want to see an experience, not just a fundraiser," says Elizabeth McCollum, co-chairman of the board.

Four years ago, she helped create Aptos Academy's annual Spring Social and Auction. The themed event features a different European locale every year. Past events have included Paris, Venice, and Madrid.

"I lived in Europe and traveled quite a bit while I was there," says McCollum. "I had a vision of having something that was really fun, that people would want to come back to year after year."

This year's gala is all about Greece.

"Being an ancient country, they really kind of gave birth to all the epicurean philosophers. They wrote the first cookbook in history," says McCollum. "I wanted to see how I could combine different things from different areas of Greece and put them together into one big menu."

The menu is a collaboration between McCollum and Cocoanut Grove chefs Heather Parsons and Dori Molcan. "I really love working with the Cocoanut Grove. The chefs there are very open to suggestions, and they love creating custom menus for us. I didn't know that when we first started, " McCollum laughs. 'I thought they would just give an 'OK, you can serve this and this and this,' but I came in and I gave them my vision of what it was going to be like, and they said, 'Great, we'll test it out in the kitchen, we'll see if it works on a large scale, and then we'll add to it what we think will make it really delicious.' It really is fun."

Pasta: The Truth Exposed

McCollum extensively researches each year's theme country, and in Greece she found a mother lode of food trivia.

"They adore pasta," she tells me. "It's funny, because some people think of Italians as the big pasta eaters, but Greeks claim to be the largest per-capita consumers. They eat a lot of orzo and that sort of thing."

For this year's event, the Cocoanut Grove has come up with a black and white "tuxedo" orzo, with artichokes and leeks. Also on the menu is an appetizer more often associated with California cuisine--calamari.

"Calamari is very common in Greece, in the coastal areas, and it's also very common in Santa Cruz," McCollum says. "People love it."

A $65 per person cover charge gains patrons admittance into the event. The Gala in Greece will begin with traditional Greek hors d'oeuvres, including spinach and feta tiopitas, along with a wine tasting and silent auction. The dinner will be served buffet style and will include lamb souvlakia and chicken skordalia.

"It's marinated chicken with an almond garlic sauce," says McCollum, adding, "the sauce was one of the first skordalias made in Greece."

And what Greek event would be complete without entertainment? The band Meze will be performing Greek music, and there will be dancers from the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church (the same organization which holds the Greek festival every September) performing traditional Greek dances. Artistic parents contribute to the atmosphere, painting elaborate murals of the Acropolis and the temple of Zeus.

McCollum, who has two children at Aptos Academy, enjoys working with school staff and volunteer parents to put together these events.

"I get really into it, because to me it really is an event that gives people the feel of being there for the night," she says. "I want people to come in an feel like they're really being treated to something special for coming here."

The Gala in Greece is Saturday, March 27, 5:30-10pm at the Cocoanut Grove, 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Aptos Academy at 831.688.1080.

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From the March 24-31, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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