The Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival began last night with a bang and a bite (or several hundred) of the New York area’s best pizza and meatballs at the La Sagra Slices event. Last night’s hosts were Travel Channel’s Adam Richman and Bongiovi Brand, with a special appearance by Bon Jovi, who was there to support his family's line of pasta sauces. The Daily Meal got exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the set-up of the event, where we learned just what goes into transforming the rooftop at Pier 92 into the perfect setting for an Italian-American feast.
La Sagra Slices was sponsored by Celebrity Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises head chef John Suley was on hand to serve meatballs, piperade stew, toasted country bread, parmesan, and espelette. These selections and many more can be tasted aboard Celebrity Cruises. Chef John Suley will also be cooking with the rest of the Celebrity Cruises team at the Blue Moon Burger Bash on Friday, the Jets + Chefs Tailgate with Mario Batali on Saturday, and Meatopia X: The Carnivore's Ball with Michael Symon on Sunday.
Electric ovens lined the edges of the La Sagra event, ready to make gourmet pies in an instant for hundreds of hungry guests. But some pizzerias didn’t want to take any chances and brought their own wood-fire-burning ovens, like Co., located in Chelsea. Jim Lahey, master pizza maker and owner of Co., served his pizza with corn cream sauce topped with sun gold tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella, and a charred kale and basil mixture.
“You want to handle the dough as gently and as lightly as possible,” said Lahey as he prepared the raw pizza dough. “You don’t want to mess up the cornichon [Italian for the charred, raised edge of the crust]. We just let the cornichon do its own thing. The raw corn brings a nice, pleasant flavor and the charred kale adds another dimension. This pizza is our pride.”
Lahey got creative with his pie, as did some of the other chefs like Marc Vetri (Pizzeria Vetri), who served a pie with melon, chicory, and ricotta salata. Others took a more classic route like Don Antonio pizzeria, which served a classic margherita pizza with fresh, stretchy mozzarella.
On the meatball end, chefs were preparing their unusual takes on the classic Italian staple, like the duck meatballs topped with cherry sauce atop crème fraîche from Fresco by Scotto. Iron Chef Donatella Arpaia, however, was helping her team prepare a classic meatball made with her family’s secret marinara sauce recipe, next to a sizable pile of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
“I’m sticking with the tried and true formula,” said Arpaia. “People want the taste of home with a meatball. My strongest memory is not waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs on Sundays, but waking up to the smell of my mother making the sauce and meatballs. That’s what we’re going for.”
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi