Savor the Arts at SOPAC’s awards honors to local chefs

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — On Tuesday, Sept. 25, South Orange Performing Arts Center hosted a sold-out crowd for “Savor the Arts – An Evening of Culinary Adventure” in the Loft. Patrons mixed and mingled, as several food and beverage vendors displayed their Garden State farm-to-table wares. SOPAC topped the evening’s tastings with a chef slam featuring Kwame Williams of Montclair and Leia Gaccione of Morristown and Madison, two up-and-coming chefs from the New Jersey restaurant scene, judged by a panel led by celebrity chef Ariane Duarte. At the end of the night, the chef slam winners were announced, along with People’s Choice awards for best food and beverage offerings.

Gaccione, of South+Pine and Central+Main American Eateries, gained bragging rights — twice; she won the chef slam and the Peoples’ Choice for best food tasting. But Williams of Vital Dining did not disappoint; Duarte and her judges’ panel were much impressed with both entries. Given only five ingredients, with a few pantry staples, each chef created a tasty melange of culinary delight.

The People’s Choice award for best beverage tasting went to Ironbound Hard Cider. Along with its stellar hard cider portfolio, Ironbound serves up a social mission; Ironbound seeks to usher in the rebirth of heirloom Newark cider apples, while fostering environmental repair and workforce development.

Emcee and wine enthusiast Hank Zona of The Grapes Unwrapped was on deck to keep the evening flowing and to guide guests through the vendor pairings and chef slam. Dan Lipow of The Foraged Feast provided the surprise, foraged ingredients that Gaccione and Williams were required to incorporate into their judged dishes.

Photos Courtesy of Tom Egan