By Rod Lee
It did not take official pronouncement of Pepe’s Italian Restaurant as a second-place winner (twice) in the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts’ Fork It Over event at the Worcester Art Museum on March 26th for Theresa Travaglio-Romeo to know that her family’s restaurant was going to be a hit with patrons.
Competing in Fork It Over for the first time, Pepe’s Chefs Derek T. Herman and Michael Peak chose “Lemon Arancina Pancetta and Peas” and “S’more Fried Ravioli” as their entries.
“Why those?” Mr. Peak was asked.
“Just created for this evening, trying to stay in the realm of an Italian-American restaurant,” he said, early in the proceedings.
“We’re crushing it!” Ms. Travaglio-Romeo said. “S’mores are the way to go!”
Pepe’s, located at 274 Franklin St. in Worcester, was one of ten restaurants that took part in Fork It Over this year. “There were approximately 250 attendees and the event raised more than $24,000” for the Girl Scouts, Dana Carnegie, the organization’s communications manager, said.
Fourteen different creations utilizing one or more of the seven varieties of Girl Scout cookies were offered by the competing chefs, Ms. Carnegie said. “The most popular cookie used was the Savannah Smile, followed by Samoa’s and Tagalongs (which tied for that honor).”
Event sponsors included HEARD Strategy & Storytelling, Country Bank, Webster Five Cent Savings Bank, Reliant Medical Group, Bay State Savings Bank, UniBank and C&R Tire.
Barbara Houle of the Telegram & Gazette, Brad Kane of the Worcester Business Journal, Cornelius Rodgers of Romaine’s Restaurant, Diana Casavecchia of Mechanics Hall and Scott Croteau of MassLive served as judges.
Not only was the mezzanine level of the Worcester Art Museum a perfect setting for Fork It Over, the main floor of the building accommodated a wine tasting. Fork It Over also featured a raffle.
The event brought out the best in some of the region’s top culinary talents, as for instance Mr. Herman, a Worcester Tech grad who turned from a focus on automotive to cooking, and Mr. Peak, whose passion for the craft led to a stint working under the acclaimed James Beard.
Much hinged on what treats the chefs put out for tasting. In the case of Old Sturbridge Village, that was “Savannah Village Lemon Vinaigrette” and “Tagalong Village Cannoli.” Speaking of these, OSV’s Kim Dolan said “a lot of debating took place in the kitchen. I strong-armed Michael (Heenan)!” As executive chef at Old Sturbridge Village, the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast, Mr. Heenan oversees all culinary operations there, including for the Oliver Wight Tavern, the Bullard Tavern, the Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public Schools and special events that are catered within the Village.
“I love it!” Karol LeBrun of Karol’s Corner Take-Out on Pleasant St. in Rochdale, said, of the Worcester Art Museum as the site (replacing such previous hosts as the Hanover Theatre and the Beechwood Hotel). “I made chicken and waffles three years ago. People still ask for them! I do events like this at least once a month. Our big one is Toys for Tots in December, which is held outside in our large parking lot. I do customer appreciation events, movie nights, BYOB Octoberfest, Sausage & Beer events.”
Jay Powell of JP’s Twisted BBQ & Grille, who hails from a culinary family (his mother was “a rock star” of comfort food, his dad taught him perseverance, kindness and tolerance and both of his grandmothers were cooks), maintained a sense of humor even in the face of a recent setback. JP’s was supposed to open at the Charles P. Tuttle American Legion Post 279 on Bancroft St. in Auburn in June but was sidetracked by a fire on the premises.
“They are trying to pre-smoke the place for us!” Mr. Powell said, as he and his wife Nancy pushed their “Tagalong Fluffernutter Brownies.” While waiting for the chance to serve his traditional Memphis and Kansas BBQ with a twist, St. Louis-style dry ribs with optional BBQ sauce made from local breweries, pulled pork, pulled chicken done Carolina style, slow smoked brisket, beef ribs and short ribs at a reopened Tuttle Post, Mr. Powell will be concentrating on working a food truck and “full-blown catering.”
Easily one of the night’s most animated participants, along with Wilson Wang of Baba Sushi & Hot Pot in Worcester, Mr. Powell said “I know when the Tuttle Post is back up I will have a brand-new kitchen!”
Fork It Over’s participating restaurants included Baba Sushi & Hot Pot, Bay Path RVTHS, JP’s Twisted BBQ & Grille, Karol’s Corner, Lock 50, Niche Hospitality Group, Old Sturbridge Village, Pepe’s Italian Restaurant, The Publick House and Samuel Slater’s Restaurant.
Fork It Over winners are as follows.
1-Erica MacGrory and Kimberly Ngo, Bay Path RVTHS: Savannah Pistachio Pizza.
2-Michael Peak, Pepe’s Italian Restaurant: Lemon Arancini Pancetta and Peas.
1-Chef Jack Elias, The Publick House: Pecan Toffee Tart.
2-Derek Herman, Pepe’s Italian Restaurant: S’more Fried Ravioli.
People’s Choice Award
1-Lock 50 Restaurant and Wine Bar, Chef Tim Russo, for his African Peanut Soup with Do-Si-Dos crumbles.
2-Sweet: Samuel Slater’s Restaurant for Slater’s Samoas Mousse Cups.
2-Savory: Karol’s Corner, Do-Si-Dos Roasted Chicken Empanadas.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.