Jack Hanna gave a heartfelt speech at the WILD at Wingswood benefit Saturday night, sharing his deep sadness about the loss of so many rare wild animals that escaped from a backyard Ohio zoo. He pled with the chattering crowd to listen to what he had to say, and suddenly everyone quieted down, but continued noshing on their small plates. Hanna brought out a baby clouded leopard as he talked about how dangerous it is to take care of these wild animals in captivity, cute as they are when they are wee cats.

The Center for the Birds of Prey was a sublime setting for the huge party and auction, with a big tent festooned with a multitude of carved heirloom pumpkins, glowing gourd arrangements, and haystacks surrounding a small stage. Party guests got to mingle with some of the Center’s more sociable birds (including the hilariously impish screech owl and the regal Ural owl) and find out about their mission to help rehabilitate injured birds.

Around the perimeter of the tent were food stations of the dreamy star-chef variety. The new top gun at Peninsula Grill, Graham Dailey, wowed the crowd with a silky roasted butternut squash and Tupelo honey bisque with duck confit and toasted almond hash. Michelle Weaver’s smoked pork belly was like a bacon revelation that conjured a choir of singing angels with each bite.

Matt and Ted Lee “curated” the event, choosing the chefs who participated and maing sure there weren’t too many shrimp dishes. It worked, as the chefs leaned on hearty meat and root vegetable flavors appropriate for fall and especially that chilly night that felt like winter already. The powerhouse chef lineup also included big names like Lata, Lee, Vedrinski, Stehling, Brock, Deihl, and Glowacki.

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