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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

Taste of the Nation features dishes from 3 visiting chefs

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

There will also be a few surprises to pique the palate at the annual event, from 5-9 p.m. Sunday in Mancy's Italian restaurant, 5453 Monroe St.

Three nationally known chefs are flying to Toledo to participate in Taste of the Nation, which has raised more than $278,000 to benefit local hunger relief agencies since 1996 when Toledo began hosting the event.

Robin Stotter, corporate executive chef of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide in Beverly Hills, Calif., will translate the traditional blini - the small yeast-raised pancakes that are classically served with sour cream and caviar or smoked salmon - into a version made with cornmeal.

Mr. Stotter is based in Orlando, Fla., where he oversees Wolfgang Puck Cafe at Downtown Disney. Orchestrating a staff of 1,500 keeps his bicoastal kitchens in high gear as he executes the direction of the menus at the Wolfgang Puck restaurants. This includes six Spago restaurants, Granita in Malibu, Postrio in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Chinois in Santa Monica, Calif., and Las Vegas, and 16 Wolfgang Puck Cafes and Express.

Stints with various chefs and two tours of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he repaired Stinger missile guidance systems, “taught me the discipline to get things done,” said Mr. Stotter, who is the right hand of Wolfgang Puck, the famed restaurateur.

“I cook every day. I just made a really nice tomato fennel broth,” Mr. Stotter said in a phone interview. “I like fusion cooking using ingredients that are in season.” For example, he combines Asian flavors of ginger and exotic seaweed and Mediterranean style of cooking for saffron fennel broth.

Toledoans also will get to meet Dallas executive chef Todd Nelson, who will prepare one of the signature dishes of Mi Piaci Ristorante Italiano. “We do Taste of the Nation in Dallas on the same day at Union Station,” he said in a phone interview.

Lucky for us, he will be at the Toledo event whipping up Risotto Salsiccia. This Tuscan recipe is made with classic risotto, house-made sweet Italian sausage, and rapini. Also known as broccoli raab, the vegetable so common in Italy is increasingly available in the Midwest.

“It has a sweet flavor followed by a cruciferous horseradish-like bite afterwards,” said the Texan and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Mr. Nelson's dish includes stock, Yukon gold potatoes, and the sweet sausage. It is a classic traditional Italian dish.

“Our recipes, to be authentic, use imported Italian products,” said the chef. “I travel at least once a year to Italy to see new techniques and flavors.” In addition, the restaurant uses herbs from its own herb garden and chefs frequent local farmers markets for tomatoes, melons, and citrus fruits.

Dick Cingolani, who specializes in regional Italian cooking, will make his fourth appearance at Toledo's Taste of the Nation. Since his last visit in 1999, he sold his restaurant, Cafe Arugula at Lighthouse Point near Pompano Beach, Fla. Now he is doing home catering, working as a personal chef, and teaching. The avid supporter of Share Our Strength's anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs will prepare Spicy Chili Glazed Shrimp on a Won Ton Chip with Ginger Coconut Sauce. His recipe shows new ways of using won tons and how versatile this Asian ingredient is.

“Even though my restaurant was Mediterranean and Italian, I called a version of this dish Thai Shrimp Lasagna,” said Mr. Cingolani. “I layered it three high and it was one of my most popular appetizers. It's not Italian and it's not lasagna.” But it is delicious.

In addition, with more than 20 restaurants participating as well as area country clubs, the lineup of dishes promises to be spectacular. “I have watched this event evolve,” said co-chairman Gus Mancy. “The chefs and restaurateurs are presenting the finest in foods. There's a true cross-section of the finest foods and wines under one roof in one venue available at one time at this event.”

Co-chairmen with Mr. Mancy are Labib Hajjar, Dean Kasperzak, and Steve Thompson.

Watch for assorted Lebanese specialties from Beirut and Byblos restaurants; roast lamb and salmon with champagne sauce from Georgio's Cafe International; calamari pasta with balsamic reduction and poached salmon from Fifi's; Cajun shrimp fettuccine from Navy Bistro; sushi from Koto Buki; prime rib from the Board Room Restaurant, and chocolate-covered strawberries and desserts from Kendall's Cheesecakes and cheesecake from Eston's.

Crabcakes with roasted red pepper coulis from Avenue Bistro are back by popular demand. Nick & Jimmy's will be shucking fresh oysters, according to Mr. Mancy. Gladieux's executive chef William Whitehead will prepare stuffed roast pork loin.

Mancy's Steakhouse will provide appetizers for the major donors' reception with bacon-wrapped scallops with apricot chutney that <$eb>is often a special at the famous steakhouse.

Mancy's Italian plans to take advantage of being the host site: The restaurant can use its wood-fired oven to serve three gourmet pizzas such as goat cheese, pinenut, and smoked duck breast pizza, as well as two basic pizzas with the homemade crust featuring two flours and a secret ingredient: honey.

Local restaurateurs will have culinary surprises, too.

Juan Nanez of Juan's Fine Pastries in Sylvania, known for 12 years for his classic pastries, will prepare paella, sangria, and tapas along with his classic pastries. The Venezuela native learned the culinary arts from his family.

The list of tapas includes tortilla de patata and pickled mussels, “which my dad taught me to make,” he said. “I wanted to be outside playing. I think he was a super-good cook. He had the taste for it. He did it for pleasure. I think you are born with it, the ability to duplicate a dish.”

Watch for cottlefish called zepia a la jillo, which has a garlic-parsley sauce, and tender octopus called pulp a la esponola. As for the pastries, Mr. Nanez, assisted by Steve Ritzert, promises to bring French bread for the tapas, fruit tarts, and Sachertorte, a flourless Austrian classic made with apricot preserves and three different chocolates.

Also participating are Real Seafood, Bangkok Grill, Sufficient Grounds, Diva, Barry's Bagels, and Rockwell's. Again this year, the country clubs will have an ice carving with fresh shrimp.

“Last year the event raised $86,000,” said Steve Thompson. The funds, which come from ticket sales, a silent auction, and sponsors, are sent directly to Share Our Strength, which then sends checks to grant recipients. Before the event, grant recipients apply to the national SOS, which confers with the local organization to determine where the money should go.

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation is presented nationally by American Express and locally by Calphalon, Paramount, Pro Pak Industries, and the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association.



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