A KICKOFF LIKE NO OTHER
Days before the most highly anticipated game in America, comes a week of events that has everybody in the country clamoring to attend. The 5th Annual Culinary Kickoff at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, was just that. Hosted by Chefs Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Adam Sobel, Scott Romano, Lasheeda Perry at Ventanas, had athletes and entertainers enjoying an exclusive dinner with the most decadent food and wine followed by a star-studded after-party.
It was great to see so many of the athletes enjoying each course and reveling in the many delicious wines that were being served. In speaking with Charles Woodson about his involvement with the Culinary Kickoff and about his Charles Woodson Wine Collection, he shared, “I was asked to get involved from the inception 5 years ago and never looked back. I look forward to this event each year and commend the team on doing such a great job in growing this event annually.” We talked about his branded wine collection and how it started. “I discovered my appreciation for wine in 1998 when I arrived in Napa with the Oakland Raiders for training camp. I was intrigued when I noticed that everywhere I went, people were enjoying a bottle of wine. It didn’t matter if it was an opulent dinner, low key lunch, or lazy afternoon. I was drawn to the fact that people seemed to slow down and come together over a glass of wine. Being the curious type, I not only wanted to participate in this ritual, I wanted to learn how to create it myself. In 2001, I met Rick Ruiz who was working at Robert Mondavi Winery. Rick invited me to visit the winery and showed me around the cellar while explaining the winemaking process from start to finish. In that moment, my desire to actually make a wine was launched. We worked together with another friend – who happened to be acclaimed international winemaker, Gustavo A. Gonzalez – to create the first barrel of Charles Woodson Wines. We produced a 2001 vintage Merlot that was used to support the various charities that I’m involved with.” And the rest is history as they say! We had an in-depth conversation about different wines and food, and I was able to share my love and passion with Woodson as well. Growing up in an Italian family, everything you do is celebrated with food, delicious food of course. My late father was an outstanding cook and my mother was very good as well, so I learned a lot about cooking when I was a little girl and when I became of age, I was able to compliment my meals with decadent wines. Which leads me to my next topic with Woodson and that was his recent Keto diet. “The idea is for you to get more calories from protein and fat and less from carbohydrates. You cut back most on the carbs that are easy to digest, like sugar, soda, pastries and white bread.” I was particularly curious if events such as this propose a challenge for him. “Everything in moderation and sometimes your body just won’t crave certain things after a while. There also has to be that mental toughness and hey, I think I know a thing or two about that as a former professional athlete.” I would think so as Woodson is a decorated NFL superstar who can boast a career full of victories due to his formidability. (Super Bowl Champion (XLV), 9× Pro Bowl (1998–2001, 2008–2011, 2015), 4× First-team All-Pro (1999, 2001, 2009, 2011), 4× Second-team All-Pro (2000, 2008, 2010, 2015), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1998), 2× NFL interceptions leader (2009, 2011), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, National champion (1997), Heisman Trophy (1997), Walter Camp Award (1997), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (1997), Chuck Bednarik Award (1997), Jim Thorpe Award (1997), Sporting News Player of the Year (1997), Big Ten Player of the Year (1997), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (1995), 2× First-team All-American (1996, 1997) and College Football Hall of Fame (2018). Phew!
The dinner began with Miso Cured Foie Gras Torchon, Egyptian Mango, Sumac, Toasted Coriander by Chef Michael Mina paired with a 2016 Twomey Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. I haven’t had Foie Gras in a while, and this was absolutely delicious to say the least and the wine, just perfect.
The second course was the Black Truffle Lasagna, Sheeps Milk Ricotta, Paresan Fonduta by Chef Adam Sobel paired with a 2014 Charles Woodson Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2016 Perfect Season Cabernet Sauvignon. WOW! I now had two new favorite Cabernet’s and pasta dish that I can make at home and even if it comes out half as good, it will be heavenly. I had the chance to catch up with Sobel and commended him for what became my new favorite Lasagna. It was paired with the 2014 Charles Woodson Cabernet Sauvignon. What a combination! I admitted to him that I found myself trying to eat off the plate next to me but got caught in the act. Sobel chuckled, “Yes, that is one of my favorite dishes to prepare as I know it is a big foodie favorite. People love all the ingredients just as I do. The Black Truffles, Ricotta and Parm Fonduta, just delish!” He too always looks forward to this event and loves the camaraderie between the athletes and chefs. “I’m already looking forward to Super Bowl LIX in Miami for the 6th Annual Culinary Kickoff and I have to mention, such a great cause too.” Indeed, it is!
The third course was the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon by Chef Charlie Palmer and Chef Scottie Romano paired with a 2016 John Anthony Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2014 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, another perfect pairing with delicious wines. Now I must admit, I’m not a big meat eater, but this dish just converted me! Palmer laughed when I told him and said, “I have changed many foodie palettes over the years and yours is just another one.” I didn’t know if I should thank him or not, but I do know, I will cook steak more often at home.
Last dish, thankfully, as I couldn’t eat anymore, was the Chocolate Cremeux Dessert by Chef Lasheeda Perry which was paired with a Toast Sparkling, was just decadent and perfect for any chocolate lover. As I was eating each course, I felt like I died and went to food heaven. I think next year, I won’t eat for a week before I attend this event.
The well-attended event benefited the Culinary Kickoff Scholarship Fund for The Culinary Institute of America. The Fund provides scholarships for future culinarians and is designed to develop culinary artistry, creativity and excellence in students as they complete a rigorous academic culinary program. “Culinary Kickoff has a tremendous impact on students in our industry and every year, I look forward to playing my part and giving back,” said Chef Charlie Palmer. “It’s a great event for a great cause.” Palmer is certainly proud to be part of this event and giving back to the future chefs.
After dinner, the crowd was up dancing to a live musical performance produced by Jammcard and performed by Georgia native Big Boi (legendary hip hop icon and one-half of OUTKAST) featuring C-Bone presented by Levi’s®. Guests were also treated to specialty cigars presented by Edgerrin James’ One Cigar Lounge. As I found myself dancing to Big Boi, I was surrounded by Marshall Faulk, Ronnie Lott, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Calloway, Jarvis Green, Vince Carter, Edgerrin James, Ben Garland, Donovan McNabb, Michael Irvin, Derrick Morgan, Mike Kitts, Taywan Taylor, Steve Smith, Victor Cruz and my new favorite NY Giants standout, Saquon Barkley. It was fun to see them eating, dancing and of course, taking selfies and sharing to their social media accounts.
“It is an event like this that bring us together,” said Larry Fitzgerald. “Great food, wine and music, it doesn’t get better.” I totally agree because growing up in an Italian family, everybody came together and enjoyed my parent’s delicious food and father’s singing. Fitzgerald commented that “Italian’s know how to do it! They can cook up a Sunday gravy like no other.” I totally agreed although I might be somewhat biased, but Sunday’s were a very special day in my house. My parents would make homemade pasta, gravy with meatballs and spare ribs and at times, followed by a roast beef or turkey or something else that was super yummy. Who wouldn’t want to come for hours and hours for great food, wine, dad’s singing and of course great family stories, a tradition I do my best to stick with as I love to cook and entertain people and so does my son Adam, my 9-year-old who has already had private cooking lessons from Celebrity Chef, Chris Nirschel. “Too bad I was never invited! I would have come over every Sunday.” Little does Fitzgerald know, he can come over anytime he wants for one of my home cooked meals. I bet my son would spend hours talking sports with him. ☺
I have to give a special shout out to all the delicious wines/spirits partners as each selection was carefully selected and pared down to the last bite. John Anthony Vineyards, JCB Collection by Jean-Charles Boisset, Charles Woodson, Perfect Season, JaM Cellars and Clase Azul. A special congratulations to Chrissy Delisle who did an outstanding job on producing a great event. When asked about Miami, Delisle stated, “I’m heading there after the weekend and not returning until I have a venue confirmed.” And indeed, she did! “There is an extensive amount of work in the planning process and I’m looking forward to our 6th Annual Culinary Kickoff.” In speaking with Matt Haines who assisted with sponsorships and athlete wrangling, he had nothing but praise of this event. “Culinary Kickoff is the most unique event during Super Bowl week. Between the four-course meal from celebrity chefs, NFL All-Stars and an afterparty performance from Big Boi, there isn’t any other event that combines an exclusive culinary event with a Super Bowl halftime entertainer! I look forward to continuing growing Culinary Kickoff and reaching new heights at future Super Bowl’s and other marquee sporting and entertainment events.” I have to tell you, so do I and kudos to both on a job well done!
If you would like to attend the Culinary Kickoff upcoming events or follow them, please visit: https://culinarykickoff.com
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