Last year, around this time actually, I had the honor of visiting Tuscany with Acqua Panna and S.Pellegrino. It was a fairy tale dream come true in which everything that is passionate and beautiful about Italy was laid before my eyes, and put before my mouth before gladly being consumed without regrets.
When an invitation arrived from them this summer, to dine as if I were back in Italia once again but here at home in NYC – I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see what that would mean!It meant walking into another dream come true where Italia was brought to Manhattan in the form of a bar, a café, a market, a lounge (complete with a live band), artisans making copper bracelets for us to take home at the end of the evening [mine says, “reach] and eventually, a rooftop dining room where twinkle lights shone overhead and black and white Fellini movies played on a brick wall next to our tables.
Chef Michael Voltaggio (whose career I have been following for years) presided over an evening with flavors so complicated and yet so simply delicious that I had to fight my baser urges to control my passionate enjoyment of plate after plate of food.
The theme for the evening, Off the Menu, is
but an example of S.Pellegrino’s support of experiential culinary events, enabling chefs and communities of food lovers to connect in unique and unexpected ways over a shared love of food.
Connect we all did, to each other and to a shared experience that was truly unique since it is not an event that will ever be duplicated in exact again.
Chef Voltaggio spoke to us at the beginning of the evening, before the courses were brought out, and again for a minute before we enjoyed each course. I couldn’t believe how deeply I connected with his short monologue.
He told a story about how, when he was a rookie chef, he used to borrow [take] S.Pellegrino from the stockpile of the kitchens he worked in, to drink for himself. He marveled at the fact that he no longer needs to do that. Now, S.Pellegrino comes to him. [To hire him, to represent them.]
I’m a sap, so of course water accumulated in the corner of my eyes when he related that. My career is the same way, I once spent my last few dollars on bottles of S.Pellegrino because I truly preferred the taste of it over other water. [And yet, I couldn’t really afford it then.] Now, I’m invited to exclusive dining experiences with them on NYC rooftops. If you want something bad enough, reach for it. Throw out the rule book and “Live Off The Menu”, because in the end, what’s the worst that can happen…
Reading an interview he did with Fine Dining Lovers, I connected with his belief that any chef, any creative must put in the work first. In his words:
“I think that you need to learn how to do things properly before you can manipulate or do those things differently. Because, how do you know if it’s better or worse if you haven’t done it the way it was supposed to be done in the first place?”
This is how it’s always been with me and photography, and how it is when I teach it to other people. I always say the rules must be followed, before they can be broken.
The night of the event spoke to me of something else as well, the thought that while luxurious experiences are important to a fulfilling life for me – they needn’t always cost a luxurious price. The point in the end is to find complete enjoyment in what is beautiful and what is happening before you without thinking of the cost or judging something based on what it does or does not cost.
The evening seemed to present, completely harmoniously, Voltaggio’s mission, the mission of S.Pellegrino and my own desires for my life and for the lives of those around me. In a way that I am having trouble putting into words even now.
But I think I shall remember it every time I drink a glass of S. Pellegrino in the future and I hope to continue enjoying Chef Voltaggio’s creations next time I am in LA. Working on getting a reservation at his restaurant Ink now.
and always, always, dreaming of a return to Italy…
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.