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Saving Lives at the Sweet & Savory Dinner

When pastry chef Rebecca Masson teamed up with her friends to host a fundraising dinner for Lucky Dog Rescue three years ago, she sold 40 seats and raised $3,500 to help forgotten and unwanted Houston dogs find homes. There were three savory courses and three sweet courses at Masson's first Sweet & Savory dinner and two chefs.

Six of these bi-annual dinners later, Lucky Dog Rescue is luckier than ever: This past April, the Sweet & Savory dinner featured an all-star chef lineup from Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts and raised an amazing $19,100 to rescue dogs from shelters and the streets, and to give them life-saving treatments and rehabilitate them in foster homes before they're adopted out. Not even doggie cancer is a deterrent to Lucky Dog's rescue activities, said founder Millicent Gerdes.

And last night's sold-out dinner hosted 128 guests while raising $21,754. It's all thanks to the roster of supporting players who make each of these dinners a success: Ralph Smith, who donates his photography studio for the event; volunteers who pour drinks, check in guests, sell raffle tickets, serve food, pass appetizers and clean up afterward; restaurants and vendors who donate food, wine, table linens, flower arrangements and other products for the silent auction; and the chefs who donate their time to cook courses for the $100-a-person dinner.

Last night, those chefs included Randy Evans and Philippe Gaston from Haven and John Sheely from Mockingbird Bistro, whose passed appetizers of shrimp corndogs, beef tartare and smoked salmon creme fraiche kicked the night off in style. Ryan Rouse of Grand Prize Bar handed out cool cocktails in glass bottles with bendy straws, perfect for warding off last night's unseasonably muggy weather.

And when 6 p.m. rolled around, there was almost no encouragement needed to get people seated and ready for the six-course dinner.

Philip Speer from Uchi and Rassul Zarinfar of Buffalo Bayou Brewing launched the crowd straight into a fun menu of autumn-inspired dishes. Speer's cured yellowtail tuna featured powdered applewood for a smoky sweetness, while Zarinfar served a snifter of Buffalo Bayou's 1912 -- a beer brewed with bright Centennial hops in celebration of Rice University's 100th anniversary.

For the second course, Ryan Lachaine from Underbelly served a family-style skillet that was very much in keeping with Underbelly's aesthetic: thick cuts of cornmeal-crusted bacon in a light maple sauce with roasted fall vegetables.

The third course spoke to cold-weather food, too: Ned Elliot of Foreign & Domestic drove in from Austin to serve his twist on a ploughman's lunch that featured a rye and hazelnut "cereal," similar to a granola, enhanced with yeast and layered with sharp cheddar from the Houston Dairymaids, all topped with pickled onions. It was both sweet and salty at the same time and -- judging by the chatter at my table -- Elliot's unusual dish was the favorite of the night.

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Katharine Shilcutt