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Heroes of the kitchen

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If you're looking for a quick shot of inspiration and enthusiasm, give it up for Ashley Christensen. She's the chef and general manager at the Raleigh restaurant/wine bar Enoteca Vin, off downtown Glenwood Avenue around the side of the Creamery.

Besides her 80-plus-hour work week, Christensen recently decided to add another commitment to her intense schedule. Ashley signed up to ride in the "Tour de Friends," a four-day bike-athalon starting at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on June 19 and ending in Washington, D.C., three days later.

The beneficiaries of this event will be three AIDS organizations--Food & Friends (Washington), Alliance of AIDS Services Carolina (Raleigh) and Fan Free Clinic (Richmond). Participants are each expected to raise a minimum of $2,500, which Ashley has far surpassed. Her current figure is more than $40,000, more than any other single rider. She expects to have $50,000 by the time she is ready to ride.

So how has a kitchen maven also demonstrated herself to be a great fundraiser? The secret might lie in her food.

"People have just come in, usually guests of the restaurant, and they'll say we want to help you raise money. They'll hand me a check for $1,000 or $20. I'm in the center of this wonderful community. Everyone who is in this restaurant is part of that.

"Some of the other ways we've raised money is by having a charity focus on our wine list. We choose two wines per month and in some cases donate $25 per bottle. One of our owners runs Carolina Wine Company and has donated so much wine to us during this fundraiser. One of the first things that we did was take four of these wines and put 100 percent of what we made on them toward the Tour de Friends."

Since her fundraising efforts began, Christensen also has designed elaborate wine dinners to benefit the cause. One in particular served 50 guests crispy soft shell crab with black sesame pineapple viniagrette, duck confit rillette, barbecue veal short ribs and a roast beef tenderloin, raising about $10,000 dollars by meal's end.

To learn more about Tour de Friends check out their Web site at www.tourdefriends.com. For information on Enoteca Vin, call 834-3070.

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