Valentine’s Day celebrated at Kiwanis Club with celebrity chef

Photos by Daniel Jackovino From left, Joe and Penny Weber, and Ken Bishe are at the Kiwanis Club’s Valentine’s Day party at Fitzgerald’s.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Kiwanis Club held its traditional Valentine’s Day party at Fitzgerald’s with dinner prepared by celebrity Chef Jesse Jones.
The Feb. 13 event also marked a farewell for Jones who has appeared on TV shows, cooked for Whoopi Goldberg and authored a southern-inspired cookbook, “POW! My Life in 40 Feasts.” Jones has decided to retire from catering.

The Valentine’s Day party has been a Kiwanis event in Glen Ridge since the mid-1960s, according to Jeff Monacelli, who has held every club office and is the unofficial club historian.

At one time, Monacelli said, the Kiwanis Club was a men-only activity.
“The party was a nice way to get our wives involved,” he said. “Making a guess, I’d say women were allowed to be members in the mid-’70s. Truthfully, today they are as active or more so than the men and they bring a whole new sensibility to our events. Everything improved with the women.”

Chef Jesse Jones gets cooking at the party.

Nearly 40 people attended the party and entertainment was provided by singer Lisa Monacelli, Jeff Monacelli’s daughter. Her songs included “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “La Vie en Rose” and “Someone Like You,” from the Broadway musical, “Jekyll and Hyde.” She was accompanied by pianist Patricio Molina.

Jeff Monacelli said when the Kiwanis Club began its October Feast event several years ago, Jones was the first chef to volunteer his services. October Feast features food, wine and beer from local restaurants.
“His name always comes up as a favorite for the October Feast.” Monacelli continued.

Three students from the Newark Vocational Culinary Arts assisted Jones at the party.
Jones said that he had done cooking demonstrations at the school for Black History Month and was eventually asked to be on the school’s governing board as its celebrity chef.

“I just want to give back to the kids,” he said. “If they want to get into the workforce, they’ll know how catering is.”