By Pamela Silvestri | email@example.com
Staten Island Advance | silive.com
After years of presenting her smoked brisket and corn pudding dish at the annual North Shore Rotary Celebrity Chef showdown, Ilene Rosen finally did it. She trounced her competition.
“It’s always for a good cause,” said the humble cook at the beginning of the evening, before the three-hour affair at The Vanderbilt in South Beach even started.
No matter what the outcome for Rosen, the cooking effort was worth it on the smoky, tender meat with its counterpoints of sweet-and-sour sauce and sumptuous corn pudding. After all the Rotary, at the end of the day, raised over $5,000.
“It’s going to support our programs,” said Frank Wilkinson, current president of the club and one of the event organizers. “It’s going to stay on Staten Island to help local Islanders in need.”
Every vote for a chef was a dollar and it carried with it automatic entry into various raffles. Brothers Frank and emcee Anthony Wilkinson expressed their delight in the generosity of the people in the ballroom.
As one of the judges, Dr. Adrienne Ferretti, announced the winner to a room filled with Rotarians and fans of the cooks, the crowd roared with applause and cheers.
This was no easy challenge to judge, she said to the audience. Fellow judge Pastor Michael Bagnall of St. John’s Lutheran, Port Richmond, agreed with that assessment. The amateur pit master with a specialty in nose-to-tail cookery gave a solid thumbs up to the brisket.
“It really was a feat to present it the way she did it in a chafing dish. It could have overcooked but it was perfect. Really nicely done,” Bagnall remarked as he filled in his score sheet.
Yes, the competition was stiff. And sure, it was for charity. But the pressure was on for some of the borough’s “who’s who” in the business community who donated time and food for the dinner sampling.
Diane Arneth of Community Health Action of Staten Island rooted her menu in plant-based foods — a veggie-rich cassoulet and earthy salad with pomegranate seeds and a riot of beet-tastic, fall colors. Her pièce de résistance: She handed out shot glasses of chocolate mousse whipped into creaminess with cardamom, cocoa and sweet potatoes.
Next up, stuffed mushroom caps spiced up with turkey pepperoni, a presentation by a bubbly Marylou Bavaro of Gateway Arms Realty, St. George. She and presenters Elle Plotkin and Dilisa pointed out that it was a gluten-free hors d’oeuvre.
Frank Wilkinson of Rab’s Country Lanes, Dongan Hills, and his sidekick Tina Recchio flipped sweet and savory crepes in a pan. These came dressed in either Nutella with whipped cream and berries or stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese ladled with a delicate Bolognese sauce.
Christine Dehart of Salmon Real Estate, Castleton Corners, doled out chili fitted atop a fried tater tot in a souffle cup. To complete the football-themed indulgence, she used an apple tartlet as her secret weapon. Enthusiasm from tasters at the table came from that little dessert with its cinnamon blast, a sweet, autumnal ditty intended to be downed in one bite.
Competitor Regina Boukhvalova of Northfield Savings Bank assembled her broccoli raab burgers to order. The kicker on the palate between the bun and hand-packed patty was a puree of giardiniera, pickled cauliflower, carrots and garlic.
In this eclectic mix of eats, Boukhvalova’s burgers took “runner up” status with the judges. “People’s Choice” went to Wilkinson’s crepes, with Dehart’s chili taking a slot right behind. Best decorated table was Arneth’s plant-forward presentation prettied up with fragrant marigold blossoms.
Other presenters included Flagship Brewing Co. of Tompkinsville with three beers — Roggenfest, Pizza Rat Pilsner and Blood Orange IPA — and The Vanderbilt itself with a spread of eclectic noshes from cheeses to a cocktail tinted with Blue Curacao. On Your Mark Chocolatiers of West Brighton was generous with samples of colorful treats. The candy shop, staffed by special needs Staten Islanders, promoted its Thanksgiving and holiday goodies like cornucopias and Christmas trees.
This event, Wilkinson pointed out, is six years in the running. It picked up where Community Health Action of Staten Island left off. The not-for-profit known as CHASI started such a contest, a group headed by Arneth that navigates Staten Islanders through health and social support services.
“The unique event brings together leaders in our community who have a love for food, who roll up their sleeves to show off their skills, all while having fun raising money for our community,” said Wilkinson.
He added, “Because of the amazing support over $25,000 has been raised through this event in the past five years.”
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.