Hot Dish

Hot Dish: Feb. 11 2009

BY February 11, 2009
Inside the Gulfshore’s Dining scene.
Local Chefs Shine for Naples Winter Wine Festival Event
For a glorious week, Naples was the epicenter of the food and wine world, as the 2009 Naples Winter Wine Festival raised more than $5 million to benefit the Naples Children & Education Foundation. Seventeen of the nation’s top chefs gathered for a reception last Thursday at the Inn on Fifth, where local chefs from Fifth Avenue South served a wonderful tasting of their locally renowned dishes. 

From left: Chefs Jonathan Benno of Per Se, New York; Mary Ann Esposito of PBS’s Ciao Italia; John Tesar, formerly of The Mansion, Dallas; Eric DeLano of Trilogy, Naples; Sean Brock of McCrady’s,Charleston, S.C.; Sandro Durante of Vergina, Naples.

The local chefs included Eric DeLano of Trilogy, Sandro Durante of Vergina, Maria Furetta of Bellini, Ettore Laccetti of Ristorate d’Angeli, Michael Rakun and Brian Wubbena of Truluck’s, and Richard Demarse, Michael Mueller and Andrew Wicklander of Café Lurcat. The food was light and flavorful, and I’ll soon visit each restaurant to sample the Season’s best.


Bellini’s Vera Leo and Chef Maria Furetta serve Chef Emeril Lagasse at the Inn on Fifth.
The visiting chefs ate heartily, and quite a few went for seconds. Emeril Lagasse, always a gentleman, shared stories. I talked with Jonathan Benno, chef de cuisine of Executive Chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se. Arguably the top restaurant in New York City, Per Se has earned three Michelin stars. Benno suggested that a young chef today “find an excellent mentor and put in the time” to master the profession. Cuisine has very few overnight successes, despite the assortment of celebrities on TV’s Food Network.
A Visit to the Vintner Dinners
On Friday, the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s visiting chefs and their assistants cooked some amazing dishes, paired with special vintner selections, in more than a dozen fine homes for festival guests.

Jacques Péters and Dominique Demarville of Veuve Clicquot

I met with Jacques Péters and Dominique Demarville, the former and current deputy cellar master, respectively, of Veuve Clicquot, which has bottled under its famous yellow label some of the consistently best champagnes for more than 200 years.
The gentlemen talked of the complex daily routine of meeting with numerous grape growers and winemakers, as well as the challenge of obtaining consistency year after year in blending the famous mango yellow-labeled, non-vintage Veuve Clicquot. When I asked Monsieur Péters what life is like at home, he smiled and said, “I have a wife, two daughters, and a ‘Grande Dame’ for a mistress—however my mistress, Madame Clicquot, died over 200 years ago.”
Veuve Clicquot’s cellar masters, always generous, donated a vacation package with a visit to the winery and an assortment of fine Veuve Clicquot champagnes that later brought in $35,000 at the festival auction.

Vintner Jacques Péters, Co-hosts Anne and Tom Wamser, Vintner Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, Vintner Dominique Demarville, and Co-hosts
Therésa and Tom Wajnert.

I briefly visited Festival Trustees and co-hosts Anne and Tom Wamser and co-hosts Therésa and Tom Wajnert at the Wamsers’ warmly elegant home. I took out my trusty camera, gathered the group for a photo, and the camera froze, flashing “ERROR!” My brain flashed “TERROR,” and my heart stopped! Mrs. Wamser didn’t miss a beat, saving my bacon and the photo, by generously loaning me her own camera. Whew! Thank you, thank you! I was resuscitated by the sight of Vintner Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle presenting the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2005, Wine Spectator’s Wine of The Year 2008. It doesn’t get better than that in the wine universe!

The Vintner Dinner place settings at the home of Anne and Tom Wamser.

Executive Chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene served a masterful seven-course meal, accompanied by Veuve Clicquot Vintage Champagnes, and a breathtaking assortment of Casa Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays. 

Executive Chef Linton Hopkins with wife and sommelier Gina

From a Foie gras terrine to chilled crab with pressed apples; corn milk poached lobster to a black truffle fondue with potato mousseline served in an eggshell, Chef Hopkins amazed the guests with fresh foods, masterfully cooked. He then plated roast duck breast, confit leg, and small white beans as a deconstructed cassoulet.

Therésa and Tom Wajnert

The “Pot au feu” braised short rib in broth with marrow and root vegetables was matched with the superb Clos Apalta 2005. Dessert and Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage 1988 Champagne topped off the meal. Hosts and guests then generously raised funds at auction for Collier County’s neediest children.


Life Beyond the Wine Festival
Ross Peterson has left Trilogy of Naples on a sabbatical, and Executive Chef Eric Delano has ably taken over. S’Agapo has suddenly closed, and the Greek community is saddened. Owner Rexhina Elezi has catered Greek weddings, and served many family dinners, and she will be missed.
Let’s broaden our dining choices together. Post your hints and experiences of great Southwest Florida restaurants below, as a comment, or e-mail

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