Fame & Fortunato

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Last Friday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Italian Cultural Center held their annual Buon Appetito fundraiser. This year, “Fame & Fortunato” featured a silent auction and Chef Fortunato Nicotra presiding over an Italian cuisine cook-off among the executive chefs from Figlio, Arezzo, and Pazzaluna. Here are a few snapshots from the evening.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

“You can’t understand Italian culture without understanding, at some approach or curiosity, the food,”┬ásaid Massimo Bonavita, (above, standing), the organization’s co-founder. Nicotra (above, second from right) concurred. He’s a Sicilian-born, Michelin-starred chef who has held the executive post at New York City’s Felidia since 1996. “That is the key of Italian food: working with local ingredients,” he said. “Everything doesn’t have to come from Italy. It’s regional cooking.”

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

The chefs were presented an extra challenge: the event space’s lack of a proper kitchen to prepare their dishes. Despite this, they managed to crank out some very tasty bites for those in attendance.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Seth Teiken from St. Paul’s Pazzaluna got off to a flying start with his antipasto (above): a perfectly cooked scallop, wrapped in speck, alongside a mushroom and arugula jardiniere.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Those in attendance sampled the antipasti from all three chefs. The crowd favorite came from Arezzo (above) and Chef Sergio Gojkovic: creamy burrata cheese folded inside prosciutto, with a mixed salad and balsamic glaze.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

The most successful dish from Figlio’s J.P. Samuelson was his primo course (above). It was termed chicken “osso buco,” though it came off like a really nice roast instead of a long braise. It was served over a Milanese risotto that the actual Milanese writer at the chef’s table confirmed was darn close to authentic.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

This author’s favorite dish of the night was Gojkovic’s pumpkin ravioli in brown butter and sage, with tomatoes and crushed amaretti cookies. Sure, this dish is a cliche this time of year, but his broke the mold: perfectly al dente and explosively flavorful.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

The writer received a complimentary ticket to the event.