Allegrini's Cook-Off For a Cause awards $6,000 to charities

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend an event that combined food, wine, foodies, outstanding chefs, a cool space, Italy, charity and a little more wine. It was Allegrini's Cook-Off For a Cause. It's one of the most fun foodie events I've been to. 

It's always nice to go to a restaurant opening or re-opening or cocktail reception or attend a farm-to-table dinner or the introduction of a new seasonal menu. I also enjoy attending events where the vendors are on hand and you learn more about their products and their philosophy. What made this event so unique and exciting was how many different aspects of the foodie world were rolled into one afternoon.

Here you were in this really cool and elegant space, the Centered Chef, and their facility was highlighted. 

Then there was the Allegrini Estate, which sponsored the event. They produce the wine that was paired up with three dishes in the cook-off. Marilisa Allegrini, sixth generation owner of the Allegrini Winery and Cooking School in Italy was there for the event. There was also a representative from Allegrini's U.S. distribution office. 

The judge's panel included Adam R. Seger CCP, Master Mixologist/Sommelier and Catherine De Orio, the new host of Check, Please! 

Then there were the chefs - three of the best in the Windy City, who donated their time and ingredients to come up with their own take on a meal that would pair well with Allegrini's Palazzo della Torre. Each chef created a unique dish to be served with the red wine.

Those of us in attendance also got to cast a vote. And here's what we sampled:

1) Executive Chef/Owner Chris Pandel of The Bristol and Balena prepared Cavatelli with Duck Sugo. It was accompanied with toasted bread crumbs and fresh basil. I thought the wine paired especially well with this dish. The duck was tender and shredded and bursting with flavor. I somehow missed getting a shot of the dish (Bad, bad foodie blogger!), but here's a shot of Kelly and I with the winning chef (on right) and one of his colleagues. It was great hearing each chef talk about their dish and getting a taste of not just their cooking, but their personalities.

 2) Next we tried the Braised Veal Breast with Vanilla Turnip Puree and Glazed Carrots from Chef/Partner Ryan Poli of Mercadito Hospitality. The veal had a light breading and was fantastic and I was truly blown away by the vanilla turnip puree. It was a surprising, but incredible combination and I'm now feeling inspired to use vanilla for something besides cookies and baked goods. As far as taste, this one was my favorite. Poli took third place in the contest.

 3) And finally, we sampled Chef Takashi Yagihashi's dish. Takashi is Executive Chef/Owner of Takashi and Slurping Turtle. If there had been an award for creativity, his would have certainly taken the prize. His dish was a Grilled Pennsylvania Squab with Grilled Black Mission Figs with Bacon, White Grits, Mousseline of Squab Liver and Reduction of Concord Grapes with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze. The smoky meat melted in your mouth and sweet aftertaste of the grapes was a nice lead in to the sips of Allegrini Palozzo della Torre. He took second place.

The Allegrini Palazzo della Torre can be found at Binny's and Plum Market. Here's the full 411 on it:

This blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese is a smooth, fullbodied cru made in an innovative ripasso style. After the harvest, the grapes from the Palazzo della Torre vineyard follow two different paths: 70% of the grapes picked are vinified immediately, and the remaining
30% are left to dry until the end of December. The fresh wine made at harvest is blended with the fermenting juice of the dried grapes, initiating a second fermentation, and rendering a more highly concentrated and complex wine. Allegrini affectionately refers to Palazzo della Torre as its “baby Amarone.”
Estate owned by: The Allegrini family Winemaker: Franco Allegrini
Total acreage under vine: 250
Estate founded: 1858

Winery production: 900,000 btls Region: Veneto
Country: Italy
Deep ruby red in color, this wine is brimming with notes of dark, dried cherries, blackberries
and hints of dates and mocha.
Pairs well with fullflavored pasta and risotto dishes, roast poultry and chorizo. Also excellent
with hard and semihard cheeses.

Marilisa Allegrini talked about the Allegrini Estate, near Venona, Italy, which was a filming site for the upcoming Romeo and Juliet movie. It is also the site of a cooking school where visitors immerse themselves in the tastes and culture of the country. It is breathtaking. And it's one place that is being added to my bucket list. :)

The winners were announced and given an opportunity to say a few words about the charity that would benefit from their winnings. Chef Panel's 1st place win meant a $3,000 donation to Spence Farm Foundation.

The Spence Farm Foundation’s mission is to teach the art, history and practice of small sustainable family farming across America, which means that they are educating new farmers, young farmers, and other interested people how to have or support sustainable small family farms. A sustainable farm not only takes care of the land and environment, but also takes care of the farm family and all of the people associated with them and their farm. 

Second place went to Chef Takashi Yagihashi and the $2,000 prize went to Imerman Angels. Imerman Angels provides personalized connections that enable one-on-one support among cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers. Through unique matching process, Imerman Angels partners anyone seeking cancer support with a “Mentor Angel”. A Mentor Angel is a cancer survivor or survivor’s caregiver who is the same age, same gender, and most importantly who has beaten the same type of cancer. A Mentor Angel is walking, talking, living proof, and inspiration that cancer can be beaten. 

Chef Ryan Poli's 3rd place win of $1,000 will benefit the charity Pilot Light. Pilot Light, a collective of culinary arts professionals, aims to enhance a child’s perception of food through interpersonal implementation of food education programs, both working directly with schools and acting as a catalyst for community organizations. Pilot Light empowers children to take ownership of their health and select healthier food options to improve the well being of our country’s youth and influence the way they think about their relationship with food. 

Before we left, we got a picture with De Orio. I've been a big fan of the show Check, Please! for years and can't wait for the new season, which begins October 18 on WTTW-TV.