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These articles by Jamie Saxon were prepared for the June 30, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
I’ll Show You My Kitchen If You Show Me Yours
In December, 2003, T.J. Tindall, co-owner of the Lighting Company in Princeton Shopping Center, had to entertain a business associate who was visiting from Italy. Tindall, a Lawrence resident, didn’t take him to Chambersburg for a taste of home or even to New York. Au contraire.
Tindall took Riccardo Pacci of Florence to Utopia International Bistro at 11 West Front Street in Trenton, a favorite of Tindall’s, who grew up in Trenton. As Pacci ate with gusto — Japanese bread crumb-encrusted rack of lamb with a twin potato (part galette, part garlic mashed potatoes topped with a demi-glace) on the side — he hatched a wonderful plan.
As Tindall tells it, Pacci, fork poised mid-air, said, “I have a crazy idea. One of my best friends in Florence owns Ottorino, one of the best restaurants in Florence. Why don’t we bring him over here to cook at Utopia for a week and then have the chef here come over to Italy and cook for a week at Ottorino?” Moments later, Tindall called Utopia owner Boyd Wilson over to the table, and the exchange was sealed.
During the week of Tuesday through Saturday, July 13 through 17, chef Gianni Frangini will take over the kitchen at Utopia, with Ottorino owner Paolo Martini sharing hosting duries. For dinner only (reservations are a must), there will be two seatings, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., with a $75 for a prix fixe menu including wine. (A commemorative menu will be given to all guests.)
“This exchange is designed to put a spotlight on Trenton as an emerging city,” says Wilson, who has planned several special events and side trips during the Italians’ stay, from a reception for New Jersey restaurateurs, sponsored by the New Jersey Restaurant Association, to trips to Stonybrook Watershed Association, the seafood market in Philadelphia, and New York. A portion of the proceeds from the week will go to Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and the Ottorino crew, who will stay at the Trenton Marriott, one block from Utopia, will spend some time at TASK.
Then, from December 4 through 12, the Utopia clan — including executive chef Dametrious Sadler — will hop over to Florence to take over Ottorino, located in a 1,000-year-old building that was used to house the marble for the building of the Duomo during the Renaissance.
Tindall and Wilson are working on a travel package (which will include airfare, hotel, and a trip to the Gucci and Armani outlets in Florence, as well as dinner at Ottorino), the details of which they hope will be available in July. (They are also looking for people to donate frequent flier air mileage for the chefs in both directions.)
“We’re going to bring a little piece of Trenton to Florence,” says Boyd of the project, whichhas been dubbed the Two Bridge s Chef Exchange — for the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Trenton Makes the World Take Bridge stateside.
So what made Pacci go ga-ga over the food at Utopia in the first place? Owner Wilson answers with a jazz analogy. “There’s a basic melody, say, the steak, then the musicians take the melody and improvise — each puts in his own thought process. It’s the same at Utopia. Everything we serve has a little spin, and we use ingredients from all over the globe.” Fish might be served with wasabi — and barbecue sauce. A duck breast is served with jasmine rice, brown sauce, and strawberry rum chutney. “There’s a contrast in hot and cold, in texture, in color,” says Wilson, who describes himself as growing up on “the street” in Camden. He and chef Sadler met at Baltimore Culinary College.
Five years ago, Tindall met his Florentine friend when Pacci, the U.S. agent for several high-end Italian lighting lines, visited Tindall’s family-owned store. “We started carrying a particular line called Baga, and it started selling like crazy,” says Tindall, who then approached Pacci (a true character who also happens to be a major founder of the Italian Buddhist movement and a black belt in karate who speaks seven languages) with his own master plan: Tindall; his wife, Anita; his mother, Bobbie Allen; Pacci; and Pacci’s wife, Patrizzia Ponzoli, formed a partnership called Elettra LLC, importers and distributors for high-end lighting and furniture from Italy. Pacci handles business operations in Italy; Tindall works on this side of the Atlantic.
Elettra, which recently relocated to Trenton, began to focus on the hospitality market and has already completed a contract for the new tower at the Mandalay in Las Vegas, which just opened, and has nabbed other lucrative contracts including the guest room fixtures for the Borgata in Atlantic City and the furniture for upcoming renovation of the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Tindall, a former studio musician, says the restaurant exchange, which he hopes will become an annual event, is only the first in a number of other musical and cultural exchanges the group plans to explore. “We’re not in it for any money. It’s just a cool, fun thing to do. And you can’t beat the travel aspect.”
Utopia International Bistro, 11 West Front Street, Trenton. 609-394-1991. Italian restaurant exchange, July 13 through 17, two seatings at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. seatings. By reservation only. $75 prix fixe, includes wine.
We’ve got two ways for you to get to Italy this year. One is to read the article at left and pay your own way. The other is to put on your creative thinking cap and come up with the next item in the Michael Graves Design Collection for Target. The deadline is Saturday, July 3. First prize? An all-expense-paid trip for four to Rome, Italy.
Graves, a world-renowned architect/designer has his headquarters at 341 Nassau Street. In January, 1999, Target launched the Michael Graves Design Collection by introducing 200 items for the home, including the now-famous toaster and whistle teakettle. “His signature styles, using ‘Graves blue’ and the ergonomic egg shape, have revolutionized commonplace items from toilet brushes to salad tongs,” says Target spokesperson Paula Thornton-Greear in a phone interview from the company’s Minneapolis headquarters. She says Target devised the contest to give customers the opportunity to share their own inspirations for the collection, which now numbers more than 800 items, including the bar set below left.
So what helpful hints could we glean to give you a leg up on the competition? “When you think Michael Graves, you think design and functionality,” says Thornton-Greear. “Creativity is key, and imagination plays an important role in the products our guests want and need. We have an edgy presence, and the products we offer are intended to delight and evoke emotion.”
She says the item could be used in any part of the home from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom to the living room, and that the best thing to do for inspiration is to go to the store and check out the collection with your own eyes.
According to Thornton-Greear, Graves himself chose Rome as the prizewinner’s destination because of his longstanding relationship with the city. In 1960, following his architectural education at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard, he received the Rome Prize, a fellowship to study at the American Academy in Rome for two years. And Graves spokesperson Caroline Hancock said in a phone interview that this past spring, the Academy held a benefit at which Graves was honored and announced that a portion of the proceeds from the benefit would be used to create a Rome Prize fellowship in design to be named for Graves.
So la dolce vita is yours. The price? The perfect idea — in 20 words or less — that, according to the official entry form, “Michael Graves could design and that would be appropriate for sale at Target stores and on target.com.”
Target Michael Graves Design Contest. Enter on an official entry form at participating Target stores or online at target.com. Entries must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. on Saturday, July 3, 2004.
Sometimes actions, er, shirts, speak louder than words. In an effort to seek out some new recruits for field hockey officials for area schools, one of our venerable U.S.1 deliverers, Diane Olech, who has been officiating games since 1995, wore her official black and white vertical striped shirt to deliver the paper on Wednesday, June 16.
All we can say is, wow, it worked. Olech, who played field hockey at Notre Dame High School, Class of 1977, finished her Quakerbridge Road route in Hamilton with no fewer than six potential recruits for the Mercer County chapter of NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association), which is suffering a shortage of referees for public, parochial, and prep junior and senior high school girls’ field hockey. The season starts in fall, 2004.
Here’s who piped up when Olech came in and announced, “Anyone here into sports?” — Mary Arena at Lackland Self Storage, 3540 Quakerbridge Road, who said, “I used to play field hockey in high school, and I loved it”; Gil Velmar at Countrywide Home Loans, 1 Nami Lane, who said, “I officiate baseball, basketball, softball, and volleyball, so why not”; Jodi Eichmann at Parts Bin, 92 Youngs Road; Alissa D’Amelio at Hamilton Fitness Center, 133 Youngs Road; Crystal Vadeboncoeur at Public Storage Management, 3828 Quakerbridge Road; and Victoria DePeri at Commerce Bank, 3470 Quakerbridge Road.
Olech says the commitment is very flexible — as little as two games a week or as many as six games a week. Games generally are played at 3:45 p.m. on weekdays (an option for those who work for themselves or make their own hours) or Saturday mornings and some Tuesday nights.
Referrees must pass a state test to become certified, and Mercer County College offers a course to prep for the test, July 19, 22, 26, and 29, with test night on August 31. Cost: $44 plus $22 for the course textbook and rule book.
To register call the college at 609-586-4800.
For more information E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know of someone or someplace that will help readers enjoy ‘this working life” more, upcoming parties or benefits, or have an anecdote for U.S.1 Diary, E-mail BestBets@princetoninfo.com. Include a contact name, phone number, and E-mail. — Jamie Saxon
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