Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna, seen above at a 2007 primary school function featuring his cooking, faces restaurateur Victor Rallo, below, in a stovetop showdown at the Basie next Saturday. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
One’s a municipal chief executive with a “total amateur’s” love of cooking – though he does have a chef’s smock with his name embroidered on the breast.
The other’s a serial restaurateur and wine expert who hosts a TV food show set in lush Italian locales.
The premise: a pasta smackdown cooking event pitting Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna against Victor Rallo, owner of Basil T’s in Red Bank, Undici Taverna Rustica in Rumson – and newsboy-cap wearing star of ‘Eat! Drink! Italy‘ on public TV.
The Saturday-night faceoff, on the stage of the venerable Count Basie Theatre, is one of the highlights of a four-day food smorgasbord – dubbed Appetite – that also features wine tastings, Scotch and bourbon swilling, a bevy of food trucks, screenings of food-themed movies and more.
Leading up to the show, the Basie issued a call to its Facebook fans for suggested ingredients. Submissions had to include five items: a style of pasta, a protein, a cheese, a fruit or vegetable, and an edible “wild card” item.
In a press release, show promoters says they’ve gotten some fascinating and “downright terrifying” ingredients, but the winning submissions are being kept under lock and key until the night of the cook-off.
Menna and Rallo will have 30 minutes to complete a dish, live on stage. ChefJoe Bastianich, reprising his role from TV’s Master Chef, will critique their creations. A lucky few audience members will get to taste the dishes and offer feedback.
Though he humbly says he’s not sure why, Menna said he was invited by Basie CEO Adam Philipson to participate in the cookoff.
“I wouldn’t consider myself in the same league as Victor Rallo by any means,” Menna says. “I’m just a little old guy who likes to eat, unfortunately.”
But he also likes to cook, as evidenced by the time he fed a pre-K at the Red Bank Primary School in 2007.
Will he wear his chef”s smock, as he did then?
“I’ll wear whatever they want me to wear,” he says.
The cookoff comes on day three of a head-spinning array of Appetite offerings. On tap, among other particulars, are three nights of famous chefs – Ina Garten, Anne Burrell and Bastianich – demonstrating cooking techniques and talking about food; a bloody Mary breakfast on Saturday; discussions of coffee, beer, hard stuff and cupcakes; classic mixology demonstrations and lessons; and a passel of food trucks, including Red Bank’s own Freezy Freeze instant ice cream.
Here’s the schedule for Saturday and Sunday; you’ll need to enlarge it to about 150 percent to make it legible: Appetite Schedule. A complete list of talent, details, and ticket information is at the Appetite website.
Tickets for the pasta smackdown range from $20 to $75. Prices for individual events over the course of the four days range from a $10 admission to the food truck court to $415 for a premium seat at all three celebrity chef events, meet-and-greets and access to the tastings and films.
Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door.