Wildwood woman, new restaurateur win Little Italy sauce cook-off
Special to The Union
The owner of an Alta Sierra restaurant and a Lake Wildwood woman were the winners of the Little Italy Pasta Sauce Cook-off, a new event in downtown Grass Valley.
Lake Wildwood resident Kathryn “Kat” Horner was the judges’ top choice in a blind tasting June 2 with her long-simmered sauce featuring sweet peppers, fresh herbs and a mixture of beef and sausage.
Joe Grande, co-owner of Grande Wood Designs gift store in Grass Valley’s Glenbrook Basin, took second place.
Adam Ornellas, owner of Fia’s Bistro in Alta Sierra, was the People’s Choice winner with his meat-marinara sauce, said organizer Karen DiPillo of the host Nevada County Italian Cultural Foundation.
Proceeds of the cook-off benefit the foundation, which puts on the Italian Festival Sept. 14-15 in Western Gateway Park, Penn Valley.
Ornellas in July will mark one year since opening Fia’s Bistro at the corner of Alta Sierra Drive and Highway 49. His winning sauce — inspired by his Spanish-Italian mother’s Sunday Gravy — shows off the fresh ingredients, time and love characteristic of food at Fia’s, he said.
“Everything’s fresh. We go straight to the farms … in Placer and Nevada counties, and there are no pesticides,” said Ornellas. The San Jose native is a Michelin-star chef with experience at Westin and Sheraton hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He also butchers his own meat, and his fresh pasta comes from Bear River Pasta Co. in Grass Valley. Ornellas is working with Sierra Knolls winery, in southern Nevada County, to plant a vegetable garden, and he sources his fresh seafood from the Bay Area, he added.
Mama Ornellas’ gravy features freshly ground and browned beef, veal and pork. To that, “Chef Adam” adds a stock created by roasting beef and veal bones, roasting vegetables, then deglazing the pan with red wine, he said.
Then, he adds a tomato sauce: roasted and pureed roma tomatoes, more wine-stewed romas, fresh herbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, he said.
On the day of the cook-off, Ornellas had to return to the restaurant before the results of the judging were announced. So DiPillo and other organizers took their news to Alta Sierra and honored Ornellas to the applause of Fia’s diners.
The cook-off drew “between 150 and 175 people,” despite the day’s heat, DiPillo said. Bear River Pasta, which co-sponsored the event, went through “close to 70 pounds of pasta,” co-owner Carl Brenner added.
Locals of Italian descent traded stories, and non-Italians learned how immigrants contributed to western Nevada County’s mining history, Brenner said. Students from Forest Charter School sang Italian songs, he added.
Horner credited her win to the encouragement of neighbors, including the loan of a camp stove and lots of fresh basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sweet Italian parsley and red wine.
“I was so amazed. I didn’t expect to win,” Horner said. “Fun!”
For information on the upcoming Nevada County Italian Festival, including food for sale, chef demonstrations and wine tastings, visit http://NevadaCountyItalianFestival.com.
Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist may be contacted at email@example.com or 530-575-6132.
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