Days before America’s most anticipated game comes a week of events that everybody in the country wants to attend. That 5th Annual Culinary Kickoff at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, that was it. Hosted by Chefs Charlie Palmer, Michael Mina, Adam Sobel, Scott Romano, Lasheeda Perry at Ventanas, athletes and entertainers enjoyed an exclusive dinner of the most decadent food and wine followed by a star-studded after party.
It’s great to see so many athletes enjoying each course and enjoying the various delicious wines served. In talking to Charles Woodson about his involvement with Culinary Kickoff and about his Charles Woodson Wine Collection, he shared, “I was asked to be involved from the start 5 years ago and have never looked back. I look forward to this event every year and applaud the team that has done a great job developing this event each year.” We are talking about his branded wine collection and how it started. “I discovered my appreciation for wine in 1998 when I arrived in Napa with the Oakland Raiders for training camp. I was intrigued when I realized that wherever I went, people were enjoying a bottle of wine. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fancy dinner, a simple lunch, or a lazy afternoon. I was intrigued by the fact that people seemed to be slowing down and congregating over wine. Being the curious type, I didn’t just want to participate in this ritual, I wanted to learn how to make it myself. In 2001, I met Rick Ruiz who worked at Robert Mondavi Winery. Rick invited me to visit the winery and showed me around the cellar explaining the winemaking process from start to finish. At that moment, my desire to really make wine was thrown out. We teamed up with another friend – who happens to be internationally renowned winemaker Gustavo A. Gonzalez – to create the first cask of Charles Woodson Wines. We produce a 2001 vintage Merlot which is used to support various charities I am involved with.” And the rest is history as they say! We had deep conversations about different wines and foods, and that I also got to share my love and fervour for Woodson. Growing up in an Italian family, everything you do is celebrated with food, delicious food obviously. My late father was a tremendous cook and my mother was also very good, so I learned a lot about her cooking when I was a child and when I got older, I could complement my meals with decadent wines. Which brings me to my next topic with Woodson and that’s the recent Keto diet. “The idea is that you get more of your calories from protein and fat and fewer from carbohydrates. You cut out the most easily digestible carbohydrates, such as sugar, soda, pastries and white bread. I actually want to know if an event like this is a challenge for him. “Everything moderately and sometimes your body does not want certain things after a while. There has to be mental toughness and hey, I believe I know a thing or two about that as a former professional athlete. I would think so because Woodson is a respected NFL superstar who can boast a career crammed with wins because of his toughness. (Superbowl Champion (XLV), 9× Pro Bowl (1998–2001, 2008–2011, 2015), 4× Ultimate team All pros (1999, 2001, 2009, 2011), 4× Second team All pros (2000, 2008, 2010, 2015), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1998), 2× NFL interceptors leader (2009, 2011), NFL 2000s Entire Decade Team, National champion (1997), Heisman Trophy (1997), Walter Camp Award (1997), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (1997), Chuck Bednarik Award (1997), Jim Thorpe Award (1997), Sport News Player of the Year (1997), Top Ten Player of the Year (1997), Top Ten Freshman of the Year (1995), 2× First team All Americans (1996, 1997) And College Football Hall of Fame (2018). phew!
Dinner started with Miso Cured Foie Gras Torchon, Egyptian Mango, Sumac, Toasted Coriander by Chef Michael Mina paired with a Twomey Anderson Valley 2016 Pinot Noir. I had not had Foie Gras in a while, and this was absolutely delicious to say the least and the wine, perfect .
Second courses were Black Truffle Lasagna, Lamb’s Milk Ricotta, Paresan Fonduta by Chef Adam Sobel paired with Charles Woodson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and Perfect Season Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. WOW! I now have two new favourite Cabernet and pasta dishes that I can make at home and even if they were half pretty much as good, they would be heavenly. I had the opportunity to meet Sobel and compliment him on what has become my new favourite Lasagna. It was paired with a 2014 Charles Woodson Cabernet Sauvignon. What a combination! I admitted to him that I caught myself trying to eat from the plate next to me but was caught off guard. Sobel chuckled “Yes, it is one of my favorite dishes to prepare because I know it is a foodie favorite. People love all the ingredients as much as I do. Black Truffle, Ricotta and Parm Fonduta, so delicious!” He also at all times looked forward to this event and loved the friendship between athletes and cooks. “I’ve been looking forward to Super Bowl LIX in Miami for the 6th timeth Annual Culinary Kickoff and that I must mention, what a destination too. Indeed it’s!
The third course was Point Reyes Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon by Chef Charlie Palmer and Chef Scottie Romano which was paired with a 2016 John Anthony Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2014 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, another perfect pairing with a delicious wine. Now I must admit, I’m not a big meat eater, but this dish just turned me on! Palmer laughed when I told him and said, “I’ve changed a lot of foodie palettes over the years and yours is just one more.” I do not know if I should thank him or not but for all I know, I will be cooking steaks at home more often.
The final dish, thankfully, because I could not eat any more, was a Chocolate Cremeux Dessert by Chef Lasheeda Perry which was paired with a Sparkling Toast, so decadent and excellent for chocolate lovers. As I ate each dish I felt like I had died and gone to food heaven. I believe next year, I won’t eat for a week before I attend this event.
The well-attended event benefited the Culinary Kickoff Scholarship Fund for The Culinary Institute of America. The fund provides scholarships for future culinary experts and is designed to develop students’ culinary arts, creativity, and excellence as they complete a rigorous academic culinary program. “Culinary Kickoff has had a tremendous impact on students in our industry and every year, I look forward to playing my part and giving back,” said Chef Charlie Palmer. “This is a great event for a great cause.” Palmer is absolutely proud to be a part of this event and is giving back to future cooks.
After dinner, the audience danced to a live music performance produced by Jammcard and performed by Georgia’s Big Boi (legendary hip hop icon and half of OUTKAST) performing C-Bone presented by Levi’s®. Guests were also treated to special cigars presented by One Cigar Lounge Edgerrin James. When I found myself dancing for Big Boi, I was surrounded by Marshall Faulk, Ronnie Lott, Larry Fitzgerald, AJ Calloway, Jarvis Green, Vince Carter, Edgerrin James, Ben Garland, Donovan McNabb, Michael Irvin, Derrick Morgan, Mike Kitts, Taywan Taylor, Steve Smith, Victor Cruz, and my new favourite from the NY Giants, Saquon Barkley. It’s fun watching them eat, dance, and obviously take selfies and share them on their social media accounts.
“It’s events like these that bring us together,” says Larry Fitzgerald. Great food, wine and music, it does not get any better. I could not agree more being raised in an Italian family, everybody hanging out and enjoying my parents delicious food and daddy’s singing. Fitzgerald commented that “Italian people know how to do it! They can cook Sunday sauce like no other. I totally agree even though I may be a bit biased but Sunday is a very special day in my house. My parents would make homemade pasta, gravy with meatballs and ribs and sometimes, follow that with roast beef or turkey or something super tasty. Who doesn’t want to come for hours to enjoy great food, wine, daddy’s songs and of course great family stories a tradition I do my best because I love to cook and entertain people so does my son Adam my son who is 9 years old who has received private cooking lessons from Celebrity Chef, Chris Nirschel. “Too bad I was never invited! I will come every Sunday.” Little did Fitzgerald know, he could come any time he wanted for one of my home cooking. I’m sure my son will spend hours talking sports with him. ☺
I must give a special shout out to all the delicious wine/aperitif partners as every choice was carefully selected and pared all the way down to the last bite. John Anthony’s Vineyard, JCB Collection by Jean-Charles Boisset, Charles Woodson, Perfect Season, Jam Warehouse And Azul class. Special congratulations to Chrissy Delisle who did a fantastic job producing a fantastic event. When asked about Miami, Delisle stated, “I’m heading there after the weekend and won’t be back until I have a spot confirmed.” And certainly, he did! “There is a lot of work in the planning process and I am looking forward to 6th Annual Culinary Kickoff.” While talking to Matt Haines who assists with sponsorship and athlete disputes, he had nothing but praise for this event. “Culinary Kickoff is the most unusual event during Super Bowl week. Between a four-course meal from celebrity cooks, NFL All-Stars, and afterparty appearances from Big Boi, no other event combines exclusive culinary events with Super Bowl halftime entertainers! I look forward to continuing to grow Kickoff Culinary and reach new heights at the upcoming Super Bowl and other marquee sports and entertainment events. I must tell you so do I and kudos to these two on a job well done!
If you wish to attend the upcoming Culinary Kickoff event or participate in it, please visit: https://kulinerkickoff.com