It seemed like a natural fit five years ago when the March of Dimes decided to pair local chefs and babies at its annual fundraiser.

One of the chefs in the Signature Chef's Auction for the March of Dimes from the get-go is Marcy Tatarka, who knows first-hand the need for quality care for babies in Billings.

“I am a neonatal nurse at St. Vincent Healthcare and I’ve been working with premature births in Billings since 1989. I definitely understand the value of the March of Dimes organization, even more so than the majority of the chefs who are involved.”

Tatarka, who owns the catering company Beyond Basil, said that in addition to helping a good cause, the event is fun for the 19 chefs because they get to discover what the other chefs are conjuring up in the kitchen and socialize a bit.

This year, the Signature Chef's Auction for March of Dimes is set for Monday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Billings Depot. The event is sold out with a guest list of 300.

Tatarka usually collaborates with Mike Callaghan, of Food Services of America, to create ethnic dishes from around the world. This year, they picked Argentina-style cooking. They haven’t yet picked the dish, but Tatarka said it will involve beef, some South American-style cooking, and root vegetables such as purple potatoes and beets.

“It won’t be heavily spiced in terms of heat, but it is spiced in terms of a flavor profile,” Tatarka said.

Along with the special dishes each chef or team of chefs create for the dinner are auction items that reflect the food. For example, David Maplethorpe of the Rex and Carl Kurokawa of Juliano’s will create Mediterranean beef tacos and beef medallion Napoleon. And up for auction will be a dinner for eight with wine pairings prepared by Maplethorpe and Kurokawa.

Maplethorpe said he enjoys participating in Signature Chef's because he can be inventive with food.

“An event like this gets you out of your normal routine and allows you to do things that you don’t get to do at the restaurant,” Maplethorpe said. “I just feel that I need to be part of it because I believe in helping babies. This is a good cause.”

Maplethorpe said for his portion of the meal, he will marinate beef for a week and a half and then grill it.

“We try to make enough so that we will have plenty. We will make 200-plus tacos and 140 of my Napoleons. There will be plenty of food for everyone.”

Milford Burke, a chef with Kreative Kapers Catering, said he plans to offer cooking classes and a reception for up to 25 people as part of the auction.

“We do a lot of Italian items, lots of hors d’oeuvres,” Burke said.

March of Dimes state director Debra Donovan said Signature Chef's Auction for March of Dimes is the only event of its kind in Montana. It has been so successful in the past four years that Donovan said plans are to replicate it in another Montana city in 2013.

“The funds raised at this event are used to support the mission, which is all about helping support healthier and stronger babies through research, education, advocacy and community service,” Donovan said. One project the March of Dimes is proud of is the NICU Family Support Program in Billings. The program gives education, comfort and support to the families who have babies who are too little or sick to go home and must remain in the hospital, sometimes for months.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.