South Beach Wine & Food Festival

SBWFF 2010: Lidia & Joe Bastianich at the Barilla Interactive Dinner

Guests who bought $225 tickets to last night's Barilla Interactive Dinner at the Biltmore hotel probably assumed the word "interactive" meant a chef would be cooking for them at each table. Not so. As hungry diners dressed in everything from jeans to suits entered the room, they found cloth toques on the table and folded aprons on their seats, while one of the chef hosts of the evening explained, "It is an interactive dinner, which means you actually have to get up and cook, or your table's not going to eat." 

Now the thought of a Palme d'Or diner shelling out two Benjamins-plus to cook his or her own meal would normally seem obscene, but the crowd at the Barilla event seemed eager to feed largely unfamiliar tablemates. Students from the culinary program at Coral Gables Senior High and other local hospitality schools helped at least one average Joe at each table as he or she made Montasio frico with potato and crab filling (described as "gourmet grilled cheese without the bread"), fish soup (which wasn't really soupy, but very tasty), and ahi tuna with radicchio and balsamic-beet vinaigrette. (If any readers want the recipes, post a request below and we'll share.)

Chefs Cody Hogan from Lidia's Kansas City, Fortunato Nicotra from Felidia New York, and executive chef for Barilla America Lorenzo Boni were assisted by event hosts Lidia Bastianich and her son, Joe. They stood in front of the room attempting to show patrons how to tackle the recipes above the din of the excitable crowd. Thankfully, the prep work was already done as volunteers seared, sautéed, and served. Jermann, Canella, and Pio Cesare provided wine pairings for each course. (Daringly, yet successfully, a Barolo was poured to complement the ahi.)

Many, including our table's student chef, felt the recipes were a bit too involved for novices, but thankfully all the prep work was done ahead of time and the instructions -- though often straying from the demonstrations onstage -- were also provided in print. 

Not everything edible was table made, however: Academia Barilla, for example, offered hors d'oeuvres of peeled cherry tomatoes shaded by a slice of Pecorino Gran Cru and a drizzle of 8-year-old balsamic in extra virgin olive oil. Biltmore's executive chef, Philippe Ruiz, shared an air-light goat cheese terrine stained with black olive tapenade with a roasted Italian sausage and micro greens to prepare palates, and the resort's pastry chef, Oliver Rodriguez, ended the meal on a sweet note with a pistachio brownie napoleon seemingly inspired by a cartoon caterpillar.

Guests were also given signed copies of Lidia Bastianich's hardcover cookbook Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, along with insulated Barilla tote bags filled with various pastas, a spaghetti storage tin, and an herb mix.

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Riki Altman