New restaurateur, Wildwood woman win Little Italy sauce cook-off
Published on Jun 10, 2013 - 6:26:50 AM
Chef Adam Ornellas of Fia’s Bistro in Alta Sierra, left, took the People’s Choice award at the first Little Italy Pasta Sauce Cook-off held in Grass Valley June 2. Organizers included Carl Brenner, of Bear River Pasta Co., right. Photo by Theresa McGuire
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. June 10, 2013 - The owner of a new Alta Sierra restaurant and a Lake Wildwood woman and were the winners of the Little Italy Pasta Sauce Cook-off, a new event held in downtown Grass Valley.
Lake Wildwood resident Kathryn “Kat” Horner, second from left, took first place in the blind judging at the first Little Italy Pasta Sauce Cook-off held in Grass Valley June 2. Organizers included, from left, Erin VanDyke, of the Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation; Carl Brenner and Theresa McGuire, of Bear River Pasta Co.; and Hank DiPillo of the Italian foundation. Photo by Christy Cannon
Adam Ornellas, owner of the new Fia's Bistro in Alta Sierra, was the People's Choice winner June 2 with his meat-marinara sauce, said organizer Karen DiPillo of the host Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation.
Lake Wildwood resident Kathryn "Kat" Horner took first place in a blind judging, with her long-simmered sauce featuring sweet peppers, fresh herbs and a mixture of beef and sausage. Joe Grande, co-owner of Grande Wood Designs gift store in Grass Valley's Glenbrook Basin, took second place.
The cook-off drew "between 150 and 175 people," despite the day's heat, DiPillo said. Bear River Pasta, which co-sponsored the event, went through "close to 70 pounds of pasta," co-owner Carl Brenner added.
Locals of Italian descent traded stories, and non-Italians learned how immigrants contributed to western Nevada County's mining history, Brenner said. Students from Forest Charter School sang Italian songs, he added.
Proceeds of the cook-off benefit the Italian foundation, which puts on the Nevada County Italian Festival Sept. 14-15 in Western Gateway Park, Penn Valley. For information on the festival, including food for sale, chef demonstrations and wine tastings, visit www.NevadaCountyItalianFestival.com.
"Sunday Gravy" from Fia's
Grass Valley businessman Joe Grande, second from left, took second place in the blind judging at the first Little Italy Pasta Sauce Cook-off held in Grass Valley June 2. Organizers included, from left, Erin VanDyke, of the Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation; Carl Brenner and Theresa McGuire, of Bear River Pasta Co.; and Hank DiPillo of the Italian foundation. Photo by Christy Cannon
Ornellas in July will mark one year since opening Fia's Bistro at the corner of Alta Sierra Drive and Highway 49. His winning sauce – inspired by his Spanish-Italian mother's Sunday Gravy – shows off the fresh ingredients, time and love characteristic of food at Fia's, he said.
"Everything's fresh. We go straight to the farms… in Placer and Nevada counties, and there are no pesticides," said Ornellas. (The San Jose native is a Michelin-star chef with experience at Westin and Sheraton hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area.)
He also butchers his own meat, and his fresh pasta comes from Bear River Pasta Co. in Grass Valley. Ornellas is working with Sierra Knolls winery, in southern Nevada County, to plant a vegetable garden, and he sources his fresh seafood from the Bay Area, he added.
Mama Ornellas' gravy features freshly ground and browned beef, veal and pork. To that "Chef Adam" adds a stock created by roasting beef and veal bones, roasting vegetables, then deglazing the pan with red wine, he said. Then, he adds a tomato sauce: Roasted and pureed roma tomatoes, more wine-stewed romas, fresh herbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, he said.
On the day of the cook-off, Ornellas had to return to the restaurant before the results of the judging were announced. So DiPillo and other organizers took their news to Alta Sierra and honored Ornellas to the applause of Fia's diners.
Horner: Just like mama's
Horner couldn't have won without the help of Wildwood neighbors Len Madrid and Ann Marie Smith, part-timers from Martinez, and neighbor Al Attard, also a weekender from the San Francisco Bay Area, she said.
Fresh basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram and sweet Italian parsley sure helped.
Horner's concoction of sweet red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion and red wine, cooked until the vegetables dissolve, was a hit for the judges in the blind competition, Karen DiPillo said.
"I was so amazed. I didn't expect to win," Horner said. "Fun!"
Horner credited the encouragement of neighbor Madrid, who said her sauce was just like his mother's, she recalled. Attard lent her an old camp stove for the cook-off.
When she arrived at the event, Horner was stunned to see how beautifully decorated were some of the contestants' tables. "I never once thought about decorating my table," she said.
So there she was, sweating over browning beef and sweet sausage on vintage campware, shocked and dismayed that she couldn't simmer her sauce for the good 12 hours she preferred.
A lucky break: Blind judging didn't start until mid-afternoon. A mere six hours of cooking would have to do.
"And then I end up winning – who'd 'a thought?" Horner said with a laugh. The Yuba County native grew up in Sacramento and has lived in Lake Wildwood for four years.
Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 575-6132.
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