Dining » Food Features

Stars Will Shine in Milan

Annual Food & Wine Celebration happens July 21



Now in its 10th year, the upcoming Food & Wine Celebration in Milan is shaping up to be one of the best yet. The can't-miss foodie event, which is a benefit for the not-for-profit Veggie U, has attracted dozens of high-profile chefs and culinary professionals from around the country to rural Erie County.

Held on Saturday, July 21, the soon-to-be-sold-out bash will attract more than 1,000 guests who come to eat, drink, and mingle with their favorite chefs and television personalities. In addition to the countless food and wine stations, the event boasts cooking demos, live and silent auctions, and book signings.

This year's headliners include Food Network stars Robert Irvine, Madison Cowan, and Amanda Freitag. In addition to local chefs Rachael Spieth (Georgetown), Demetrios Atheneos (Deagan's Kitchen), and Jonathon Sawyer (Greenhouse Tavern), the chef roster also stars Lee Anne Wong, Don Yamauchi, Bradford Thompson, Paula DaSilva, and many more.

Cleveland chef Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit will be bringing his food truck, ShortRib1; fellow chef Chris Hodgson will be trucking in on his Hodgepodge truck. (See our review of Hodgson's new restaurant, Hodge's, in this issue).

Of course all this elbow-rubbing with the culinary elite doesn't come cheap. Grand Tasting tickets are $150, and the hit for VIP tickets is $300. Find them at veggieufoodandwine.com or call 419-499-7500.

Pho'kin' Fab: Upscale and elegant, the brand new Gia Lai at Legacy Village could double as the lobby to a swank hotel.

In contrast to some of downtown's best pho shops — where the focus is squarely on the bowl — Gia Lai massages the senses with ornate chandeliers, bamboo room dividers, trickling waterfalls, granite tabletops, high-backed booths, and even progressive house music. A lengthy bar fills up (with shoppers? nearby office workers?) at day's end.

While the atmosphere is new-fangled, the menu is largely traditional. Meals start with fresh or fried spring rolls, shrimp paste skewers, and green papaya salads. The lettuce wrap app ($7.95) consists of a large bowl of hot and tender chopped chicken studded with crunchy water chestnuts. The meat is spooned onto iceberg lettuce leaves, dunked in sauce, and merrily devoured.

While sparsely filled and more expensive than some, the Vietnamese crêpe ($11.95) is delicious, thanks to a crisp and chewy crêpe perfumed with coconut milk. The folded ultra-thin pancake contains a handful of shrimp, a sprinkle of bean sprouts, and a smattering of fresh herbs. It's paired with a brilliant dip redolent of fish sauce.

The meat of the menu is built around the usual suspects: noodle soups, grilled meat-topped broken rice and vermicelli dishes, and a few stir fries. An order of the mixed-meat pho ($11.95) seemed to be missing the tendon, but otherwise it was lovely. Though a touch sweet, the broth is a heavenly amalgam of exotic spice.

Gia Lai is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Find them at 25241 Cedar Rd. in Lyndhurst. For more information, call 216-381-7200 or visit gialairestaurant.com.

(25241 Cedar Rd., 216-381-7200, gialairestaurant.com)

Back in March, we told you about a new Tremont ice cream shop that would open by the end of April. Well, better late than never, right?

Earlier this month (June), Churned opened up in the former Dish Deli and Take-a-Bite space (1112 Kenilworth) on Lincoln Park. Owners Wendy Thompson and SynDee Klingenberg, the devious duo behind A Cookie and a Cupcake (2173 Professor Ave., 216-344-9433, acookieandacupcake.com), offer housemade ice creams crafted with organic milk and fresh purees.

In addition to cones filled with chocolate, vanilla and salty caramel, the shop sells pints to go. Wholesale business to local restaurants will be added to the operation down the road.

Brandon Chrostowski is an advocate of the proverb, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."

That proverb will be put into practice when Chrostowski launches EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. Modeled after similar programs in Seattle and London, the program will offer culinary and hospitality training to adults from vulnerable neighborhoods and those reentering the community from prison. When they graduate after six months, the students will be skilled enough to go into any restaurant and make a difference, says Chrostowski.

Chrostowski, GM at L'Albatros restaurant in University Circle, made his way from Detroit to Cleveland – via Chicago, Paris and New York. Polished in every aspect of the hospitality business, it's hard to believe that he didn't grow up in the lap of luxury.

"I didn't come from a rich background," explains the Detroit native. "I was a minority in the inner city. But I had mentors along the way that I listened to. I got a lot of breaks in life. If I didn't catch some of those breaks, my life would be different. My goal is to give it back; I want to make an impact. And I don't know of any other way to make a difference in the restaurant business," he adds.

Chrostowski says that Cleveland is an ideal city to launch the Federal nonprofit because of its demographics concerning incarceration rates, high school graduation rates, and other societal factors. But also because the restaurant scene here is starved for talent.

"Filling voids in our restaurants has been tough," he says of the Zack Bruell group of five restaurants. "What it often comes down to is finding young talent and grooming them."

Students will learn cooking skills such as knife skills, how to make stocks and sauces, fish and meat butchery, and baking and pastry. They will also learn front-of-the-house skills like service and management. But more important, notes Chrostowski, the students will develop the confidence to compete in any kitchen.

Because there's more to success than a skill, the students will also receive support services from EDWINS partners in the areas of financial counseling, housing, healthcare, and substance abuse counseling.

"This isn't about giving people a second chance," he says. "It's about giving these people a fair second chance."

When the school is up and running in MidTown in the coming year, it will feature a full-service restaurant staffed by students. Chrostowski says that he already has commitments from restaurant owners in Cleveland and elsewhere to hire the graduates of the program.

For more information, to get involved or make a donation, visit the website: http://www.edwinsrestaurant.org/index.php.

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