On Monday night at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, the North Essex Chamber of Commerce sponsored its 10th annual “Taste of Essex” promotional event and fundraiser. Featuring offerings from 35 local restaurants across Essex county, including bakeries, specialty supermarkets and even an ice creamery, the evening was a delight for the 250 or so people in attendance.
“It was spectacular,” declared Commerce Committee Chair Jonathan Goodgold. “There were some great restaurants and new and different tastes. Different cuisines make it a better event every year.”
In addition to the food and drink donated by vendors, local businesses and community organizations donated items to be auctioned off as part of the fundraising effort. A portion of the evening’s proceeds will go toward the Chamber of Commerce college scholarship fund, according to Betty Albanesius, office manager.
“We have a foundation,” she said. “We’ve given a scholarship of up to $5,000 to a chamber member, or their dependent, for over 25 years.”
Ticket prices were $50 in advance and $60 at the door. Albanesius says she heard only positive comments about the evening. “I think it was a very successful turn out,” she said, estimating that the event raised about $3,000.
Goodgold said he was pleased by the evening’s turnout, observing that the abundance of gourmet delights and fine spirits seemed to please all in attendance.
“In the future we hope to get some restaurants from Newark to come,” he said, noting that the participating establishments are “from Essex County and surrounding areas.”
Each year, “Taste of Essex” is an opportunity for local vendors to showcase their specialties for a large group of appreciative tasters. The evening’s array of dishes included Panko crusted tilapia, specialty pesto, carrot soufflé, Peruvian sashimi, black angus strip steak, chicken marsala, homemade Italian Sunday sauce, double chocolate stuffed cupcakes and layered red velvet cake.
On of the most popular vendors at the event was Stuffed Cupcakes of Nutley, which has been creating a lot of buzz lately. Their bakery was featured on The Cooking Channel, an episode of Cake Boss and shown on segments of Fox and WPIX news. Oprah even ordered 15,000 cupcakes for O Magazine's 10th anniversary!
Owners Maureen and Keith Jaret, who originally began baking to boost profits at their restaurant, now focus exclusively on their renowned stuffed cupcakes. In fact, Keith, a Culinary Institute of America grad, said he’s known everywhere as "the cupcake dude."
Montclair's Peruvian eatery, Costanera Cocina Peruana, featured exotic fare such as a raw bar, Peruvian sashimi and a crusted oyster Po’ Boy. Costanera’s on-site caterer, Tatiana Macias, said all of these are featured items at the restaurant, in addition to staple offerings of seafood, steak and chicken.
The food at Costanera Cocina Peruana, said Goodgold, "melted in your mouth."
Another featured Montclair restaurant was the popular Gencarelli's Cucina. Mother-daughter owners Debbie and Nicole Gencarelli have been in business for three and a half years, serving up delicious, traditional Italian fare -- with the emphasis on tradition. As if to illustrate this, they displayed framed family photos at an accordian at their booth.
Several supermarkets and distributors were in attendance as well.
Robert Silvestri, owner of the Essex County restaurant supplier Romarsi Pesto, brought fresh pesto and kalamata olive tapenade to the event. He explained that Romarsi Pesto products are sold in at Whole Foods, Shop Rite and Foodtown, noting that he doesn't use preservatives.
Leslie Johnson from King's Supermarkets catering, said some of her more popular items were carrot souffle, crunchy vegetable salad in radicchio cups and a bacon/tomato frittata. King’s cooking studio features the “Experience Food” stage, which offers free how-to and demo classes on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
The popular dishes at the Shop Rite display were black angus strip steak and an impressive array of baked goods. Pastry chef Robert was on hand to give out samples of the sinfully delicious red velvet cake.
Towards the end of the evening, ballots were given out to attendees and “Best Of” awards were handed out in five categories.
Awarded Best Appetizer was Gencarelli's delectable olivando crispani with mozzerella, roasted peppers and pesto with balsamic reduction. Best Entree: Vitanzo Caterers in Roseland for their delicious lobster macaroni and cheese. Best Beverage: Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell for unique spiked cucumber sweet tea. The Best Dessert: The Stuffed Cupcake in Nutley, for a variety of stuffed cupcakes. Best Overall: Gencarelli's Cucina in Montclair.