Famished fans lined the courtyard of the Biltmore, sipping glasses of prosseco in the afternoon sun while waiting to pile in, get a glimpse of celebrity chefs, and cook their hearts out. Once the doors opened, the frenzy continued as hundreds of guests devoured the ham and cheese appetizer sandwiches and took their seats for the Barilla Interactive Lunch with Bryan Voltaggio, chef/owner of VOLT and Top Chef star, and Claire Robinson of Food Network's 5 Ingredient Fix.
The afternoon was kicked off by Paul Castronovo, host of South Florida radio show Paul & Young Ron, introducing the 2007 Montelpuciano D'Abruzzo from his very own Italian Castronovo Vineyards. After a greeting and a toast, the madness began.
Guests were seated at round tables with "cooking stations" and prepared the meal. Chef Lorenzo
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Boni, from title sponsor Barilla, guided us through a Barilla ditalini fish soup with saffron and cherry tomatoes. It was a complex dish that, although full of flavor, left a few tables with overcooked shrimp and very al dente pasta. But guests were distracted by free-flowing wine and a smiling Voltaggio making the rounds before his main course of balsamic-marinated hanger stake with polenta took the stage. More wine followed, as well as some chaos caused by demiglace and melted leeks, but there was lots of laughter as guests enjoyed their Voltaggio-inspired steak. It all led up to Claire Robinson's bananas foster. The queen of simple and hip took us through a five-ingredient dessert, flames and all.
About three hours later, we all stumbled out happy, and the FIU students -- responsible sous chefs assigned to each table -- finally smiled and expressed relief that no one got hurt and the place didn't burn down.