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Published: Tuesday, 3/7/2000

Taste of the Nation returns

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Get ready to fight hunger with taste.

Chefs from Chicago, Connecticut, and Cleveland will help when they share the culinary stage at this year's Taste of the Nation Toledo 2000 from 5 to 9 p.m. March 19 at the Valentine Theatre.

Paul Minnillo, chef/owner of the Baricelli Inn in Cleveland, and Toledo natives Matthew Koury of Rivers restaurant in Chicago, and Mary Beth Cothern of the Connecticut Culinary Institute will join forces with local chefs for what promises to be a glitzy, delicious event. Proceeds benefit anti-hunger and anti-poverty efforts.

The culinary and wine-tasting event is sponsored locally by the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association, Calphalon, Paramount, and Pro Pak Industries. Recipients of this year's grants funded by Taste of the Nation are the Aurora Project, Mobile Meals, Toledo Day Nursery, and Toledo GROWs.

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation, with more than 100 events in more than 80 cities in the United States and Canada, is presented nationally by American Express and Williams-Sonoma.

So in support of the event, in which 100 per cent of the proceeds benefit the recipient organizations, the national chefs are creating fabulous dishes and sharing the recipes.

Matthew Koury is executive chef at the upscale Rivers restaurant, located on the ground floor of the Merchantile Exchange overlooking the Chicago River in the downtown Loop. He will prepare Coriander Crusted Ono with Watercress, Preserved Lemons, and Fennel. Ono is a Hawaiian fish prepared with a Latin influence, "an influence which is coming back," he added.

"Restaurants are more focused in their concepts today," said Mr. Koury. "They are more professional. It's hard to put a moniker on what we do. This dish (for Taste of the Nation) typifies the style of food we do. We don't rely heavily on spice. I like to let the natural flavors shine. They will be complementary to each other."

The chef is the son of Carol and George Koury, who live in the Toledo area. He and his wife, Sara, have a 16-month old son, Noah.

The graduate of St. John's High School worked at the Hotel Sofitel and later moved to San Francisco, where he worked under chefs Roland Passot of LaFolie and Reed Hearon of the Corona Bar and Grill. From there he went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Although his cooking skills are based on French techniques, Mr. Koury is interested in the influences of Latin America, Thailand, Japan, Italy, and Spain. "Our menu has a wide variety of tastes, which are intriguing, but not terribly complex," he said in a phone interview. "I use familiar flavors. I don't use luxury items such as fois gras or truffles."

One of the most popular entrees is wood-grilled pork tenderloin served with sweet potato puree, caramelized roasted Brussels sprouts, and a spicy apple-chipotle au jus. "Some of the ingredients are common in Latin American dishes, and there is a contrast of sweet and sour," he said. In the summer, influences of Japanese cuisine can be found in seared coriander-crusted tuna with Napa cabbage salad and ginger soy vinaigrette, served with slices of cucumber and grape tomatoes.

Pastry chef Mary Beth Cothern, now a chef instructor at Connecticut Culinary Institute in Farmington, will bake 750 bite-size Black and White Cream Puffs for Taste of the Nation. The chocolate covered profiteroles are filled with a white chocolate mousse.

"I hardly ever get back to Toledo," she said, so she is looking forward to the weekend to spend time with her parents, Robert and Yvonne Cothern of Toledo. A brother lives in Philadelphia.

The graduate of Mcauley High School started as a waitress and occasional grill cook at Heather Downs Country Club. In 1988 she tested her culinary skills at the Marriott Corp. in Farmington, Conn.,

which led her to attend the New England Culinary Institute in 1995. Following graduation, she went to the Ritz Carlton at Amelia Island, Fla., and then to Napa, Calif., where she worked at the Auberge du Soleil and was kitchen manager for a

bakery called Sweetie Pies.

Although she is proficient at everything from breads to cakes, custards are her favorite item, including creme caramel and creme brulee. The latter she describes as nothing more than pudding, but flavored in such a way that it is exciting to the palate.

"You can infuse them with any flavor," she said in a phone interview. "Due to the mouth feel, people like that creamy feeling."

Among the most unique ingredients and flavors are ginger, pumpkin, or pistachio. "Any flavor that is strong lends itself to being infused in custard," she said. Watch for new flavors to emerge. "I've been noticing the trend to down-home comfort food, such as custard, compared to the 1980s interest in nouvelle," she said. "Now it is not the flavor of the month, but updated through new flavors. Chefs are not afraid to try new flavors. They put cardamom in things, or use black pepper with strawberries. It's really good. At the French Laundry (a restaurant in the Napa Valley), they are doing salt and pepper ice cream."

Paul Minnillo is a strong advocate of events such as Taste of the Nation. He not only is supporting Toledo's event, he is also active in three in Cleveland this spring, ranging from a Sunday brunch to a sit-down dinner. One of the events happens to be on the same date as Toledo's. What's a chef to do when he has to be in two places on one day? "I'm sending my sous chef to the one in Cleveland," he said. "That was a major shock to see it was the same day."

Mr. Minnillo, a third-generation Cleveland restaurateur, has selected Roast Veal Tenderloin on a Muscat Veal Reduction Sauce with Micro Greens and Roasted Baby Beets for Toledo's Taste of the Nation.

As chef/owner of the Baricelli Inn, which evolved from the family business once known as the Greenhouse restaurant, he is now the sole owner of one of the premier Cleveland restaurants in University Circle.

"I grew up cooking," he said in a phone interview. "It was a passion for me. Even in high school, I would work in the kitchen for the fun of it."

The graduate of Ohio's Miami University with a degree in business administration expanded his culinary talents, training in New York, and then in London with Anton Mossiman at the Dorchester Hotel. "I learned an immense amount," he said. "At that time America needed to step it up with France. Now we are on a par with France."

In 1999, the chef launched the Baricelli Cheese Co. just inside the Baricelli Inn. Forty varieties of hand-crafted and properly aged goat, cow, and sheep milk cheeses are aged and sold in the restaurant, to supermarkets, and other restaurants, including Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif. (Chef Minnillo's son, Michael Minnillo, 24, is a sous chef at the esteemed restaurant.)

When I caught up with Mr. Minnillo, he was flying to Houston the next day as a consultant for American Airlines, as one of their Congress of Chefs. "You try to instill in [the airline staff's] minds what food can fly and what can't fly. The biggest problem is that flight attendants are swamped with demands from guests. The food is cooked in a convection oven and they must pull it out when the bell goes off."

"We try to do braised food like veal osso buco, which falls away from the bone anyway," he said.

The menu at his restaurant, which he describes as contemporary European, is constantly changing. "We have six stock pots going every night," he said. He can do that because he has a night clerk for the the inn. "Part of his job is to skim the stock three times a night."

His wife, Lisa, handles the marketing of all these ventures. They have three grown children.

Working beside these chefs at Taste of the Nation will be a host of local chefs and community volunteers.

Even the Share our Strength Midwest regional manager, David Tressler, is a Toledoan. The graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School is the son of Mike and JoAnne Tressler. He also is the regional director for the Mid-Atlantic area and will attend more than 35 events in 20 cities.

"I am very excited to get to work with the group from Toledo and those organizations that help anti-hunger and anti-poverty in our area," said Mr. Tressler from his office in Washington. "I still consider Toledo my home."

Toledo has been hosting Taste of the Nation since 1996 and has raised $212, 426.

"Numerous taste events happen throughout the year," said Dean Kasperzak, co-chairman of the event with Labib Hajjar and Steve Thompson. "They are all great events. The thing that is different about Taste of the Nation is it is actually the charity of the local restaurants. They donate their time and talent to fight hunger. This is happening nationwide.

"This year we year we are promoting Toledo by bringing chefs who grew up here and by having it at the Valentine Theatre."

Among the local restaurants, caterers, and country clubs whose chefs are participating are:

Avenue Bistro, the Board Room, Eston's, Georgio's Cafe International, Ciao! Ristorante, Cousino's Navy Bistro, Beirut/Bylos, Fifi's, Gladieux Catering, J.D. Wesley's Bistro, Juan's Pastries, Mancy's Steakhouse/Mancy's Italian, Nick & Jimmy's, the Real Seafood, Saba's Charcoal House, Sufficient Grounds, and Tony Packo's;

Toledo Country Clubs include Belmont Country Club, Inverness Country Club, Highland Meadows, Sylvania Country Club, Heather Downs Country Club, Carranor Hunt & Polo Club, Catawba Island Club, Stone Oak Country Club, the Toledo Club, and Toledo Country Club.

Tickets are $100. Call 247-5216. Dress is black-tie optional. There will be a martini bar and silent auction.



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