|Taste of the Wild|
By Kate Sullivan
When in Manhattan, celebrity chef Christopher Covelli is sworn to secrecy when appearing on the Rachel Ray broadcast. Producers of the show ask him not to disclose the restaurant location where the show’s cast parties are held.
Private cast parties are at a secluded hot spot that resembles a 1930s speakeasy with a “ring the bell and tell ‘em Randy sent you” atmosphere. At this point, if you are playing detective, the cast does not go to the legendary Chumley’s that lasted in the West Village for more than 80 years. It closed, but rumors are that it will reopen next year.
To join Rachel Ray’s cast, celebrity guests, and the show’s crew, a visitor had to carefully walk down the mysterious stairs (hint: near 18th Street near Manhattan’s West Village) thinking, “When did Prohibition return and did I remember to take Charleston lessons?”
Covelli did not mention how long it took him to recover from the cast party in Manhattan, but now that he is in Florida, he is planning his own “wild” tasting event. Dancing the Charleston, no. But the ingredients for these tastings, at more than $1,000 per pound, may soon put the price of spot gold to shame.
As the chef-in-residence and general manager of the Lakewood Ranch Viking Culinary Center (www.lwrviking.com), he opens his culinary curtain to unveil an extraordinary event. Not a cast party where you’ll need to wear flapper outfits. It’s a tasting of wild things, and a discovery of aromas that evoke dreams of the Renaissance dining experience.
This event, held Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17, is the brainchild of Christopher Covelli and the team at Florida Winefest & Auction (FWA). Covelli is hosting Florida’s Wild Truffle Tasting and Festival, a two-day event for Gulf Coast locals and travelers to understand the flavors of rare culinary truffles and truffle products, including aromatic truffle oils. “There’s nothing like it around. We want to do this every year,” Covelli says.
In addition to living in Sarasota, he has lived in Barcelona and in Italy’s Tuscany region. In the US, he ran a quaint seaside B&B (www.christophersbythebay.com) in Cape Cod, still named after him. He has lived, cooked, and enjoyed life around the world.
In Tuscany, where he teaches part of the year at the Toscana Saporita Cooking School, he created a white pizza that met some resistance from the chef/owners, but the ingredients were so authentic that he creates truffle pizzas whenever he is in Italy. The ingredients: “There’s grilled zucchini, smoked scamorza cheese, and I drizzle white truffle oil over it.”
At FWA’s November event, he is creating a reservation-only fundraiser, fun and elegant, where you’ll discover secrets of an underground morsel nibbled by royalty and regents.
Covelli says this special party-with-a-purpose supports at-risk children. His philosophy about fundraising is simple. “It should benefit those who need it, and it should not be about what the donor gets in return. I give to give, not to receive.” He became involved with the nonprofit FWA as a guest chef in 2003.
In 2010, he was appointed a member of the FWA’s board of directors and supports the mission statement: To provide funding for programs to qualified charitable organizations which assist disadvantaged children, youth, and families in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.
He wants to make a difference, and says, “I see constant growth in the child – by helping with their education.”
For this event at Lakewood Ranch, one of the presentations will be white truffle pasta. Special vintages from boutique wineries will be paired with the exotic pasta.
Covelli says he expects 200 to attend the two-day event to discover the exotic aroma and flavor of the wild truffle at workshops designed by the Viking Culinary Center’s celebrity chef and the center’s guest chef from Italy, Sandra Lotti (www.toscanasaporita.com). These two chefs are legendary with Italian cuisine, and discuss hunting the wild truffles, truffle dogs, and the stories surrounding the wildly expensive “mushroom-like aphrodisiacs” treasured by gourmets.
Both spend time teaching at the prestigious James Beard Foundation House in New York City – which, incidentally, is nearby the secret Rachel Ray cast-party pub location (still a secret).
When attending Florida’s Wild Truffle Tasting and Festival, ask Chef Covelli for the recipe for his truffle pizza. If you have a glass of wine, ask him to reveal the location for the next cast party in New York City. Also ask him to tell you the story of Gioto, the truffle puppy.
To secure a reservation for the two-day event, November 16-17, contact the Florida Winefest & Auction in Sarasota. Call (800) 216-6199 or (941) 952-1109. Seating is limited.
For more information, visit www.FloridaWinefest.org and join the community in supporting and enjoying this outstanding fundraiser.
Kate Sullivan would love to hunt with a truffle puppy named Tuscany. The editor of WordSmitten Media, Inc., she produces an award-winning radio broadcast in NYC featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning authors (About the Books). She says interviewing smart people sharpens her appetite for tiny wild things. She lives in St. Petersburg.