Story by Anna Ciccotti
U.S. Army Garrison Italy
VICENZA, Italy (Sept. 5, 2019) – To foster community spirit with the residing American families the town of Monticello Conte Otto organized a barbecue contest open to U.S. and Italian teams Aug. 31.
“Barbecue has a very special way of bringing people close together. It is one of the best ways to spend quality time with family and making new friends,” said Luca Breccia, a local butcher and one of the event’s sponsors.
“Given the number of American families living in our town, we thought of setting up something that could entice them to engage and share cooking traditions with their Italian neighbors,” Breccia said.
Sponsored by the local “Pro Loco” organization, the contest brought together grill masters with different levels of expertise who had to prove their skills on four different dishes.
Of the ten participating teams, three were from the Vicenza Military community, and included active duty personnel, civilians, and family members.
“I love to cook and share how Americans cook with my Italian friends. Although we had never done anything like this before, my husband David and I love to barbecue, especially while camping, and we always make extra special meals whenever we go. So, we packed up the Dutch oven our favorite recipes and did our best,” said Cindy Weller, of the team “Weller Wingnuts.”
Competing categories included burger, BBQ sauce, tri-tip steak, and a ‘mystery box’ with undisclosed ingredients. Grilling started at 3 p.m. and ended at 8 p.m.
“The competition was fantastic, and reinforced that food brings people together. Whether friends, families, or total strangers, cooking and sharing bonds people together reminding us of our commonalities, and it has the greatest effect when shared over fire,” said Lt. Col. Jacob Abrami, branch chief at the security cooperation directorate with USARAF.
For the occasion, Abrami, his spouse Stephanie, and Maj. Alexander Schade, also from USARAF, partnered in the “All Fired Up” team.
“I have long been committed to the smoker, but a grill is fun too. And Italian food culture, slow food, agriturismos, and even gardening is a fascination for me. It is environmentally smart, healthy, and economical as well,” Abrami said.
He added: “I am proud to have shared in a merger of great Italian food culture and American style competition. This is a case where I can truly say everyone was a winner.”
Dishes were voted on presentation, cooking strength, taste, and creativity. Members of the jury included Damiano Ceron, Mayor of Monticello Conte Otto, Brig. Gen. Eric Folkestadt, U.S. Army Africa/SETAF deputy commander, and Col. Umberto D’Andria, Italian base commander.
“These kind of events strengthen the relationships between American Soldiers and their families with our gracious Italian neighbors. I really enjoy making new friends and learning about the Veneto region. We look forward to growing and strengthening these friendships long into the future,” said Brig. Gen. Eric Folkestadt, U.S. Army Africa/SETAF deputy commander.
“For our Municipality, the BBQ was a way to demonstrate our ongoing appreciation for the relationship we share we our American families. A fun and engaging day to honor the many decades of enduring friendship between the U.S. military here and the Italian hosts and neighbors,” said Mayor Ceron.
After several hours of grilling and broiling, tasting and judging, Italian team “Chef for a Dream” was declared winner of a very tight competition. Loris Morinni and Carmen Deganello placed first in both the steak and BBQ sauce categories, and second in the ‘mystery box’ challenge. In this final test, they impressed the jury with a particularly savory grilled lollipop chicken that Morinni rolled on the grill with his fingers for more than half an hour.
Commenting on his team’s victory, Morinni said: “It was amazing having a chance to compete with Americans. They were all super nice. For me it was a dream come true, given that BBQ represents the very core of the U.S. cooking traditions. I am grateful to those who appreciated my passion for the American culinary culture from whom I still I have a lot to learn.”
Asked about the significance of these initiatives, D’Andria said: “Italian and Americans share many more things in common than one might think: the desire to be together, to have fun, the passion for good food, the joy and serenity to spend go with friends. I was particularly struck by the welcome given by the Pro Loco of Monticello, which was not only a splendid organizer, but also managed to make our American friends feel that the family spirit of intimacy is the basis of sincere and pleasant experiences. Events like this bode well for the future.”
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