Foodgasm specialist Giada De Laurentiis hosted last night’s Meatball Madness soiree, one of the marquee events of the New York City Wine & Food Festival. More than 30 chefs came out to serve their riff on the classic comfort food—in between mouthfuls, we made some observations:
1. If your restaurant is called the Meatball Shop, you do not shy away from ball puns. This much was clear watching co-owners Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow work the crowd. They told us, “Less is more when it comes to balls, at least that’s what I’ve been telling girls for years.” As last year’s People’s Choice winner, the duo was eager to retain the title, even resorting to shamelessly soliciting attendees to put their tokens in their voting box by yelling, “Put something in my box!” Bros will be bros.
2. Giada has some diehard fans. The petite chef was in the arms of one admirer or another for the majority of the night, including a woman who had genuine tears of joy in her eyes. Male fans appeared to focus in on her remarkably thin legs, while a trio of ladies wondered aloud about the functionality of her Louboutins at the crowded event: “How does she even walk in those things?” Donatella Arpaia also commented on the diminutive Food Network star’s frame: When accepting her People’s Choice award, the chef noted, “I didn’t look like Giada when I had a baby.” It was an awkward moment.
3. You can actually get cooking tips at a tasting event. Despite the mayhem, most chefs were happy to chat about the technique behind their creations. Almost all agreed that moisture is fundamental. Missy Robbins swore it was “the love” that made her Calabrian-style meatballs—our favorite of the night—so amazing. And winner Donatella claimed their veal balls were less about frills, and more about the cooking: “We braise [in tomato] them for about three hours. We let the flavor from the meatballs flavor the whole sauce.”
4. Godiva Chocolate and shamelessness go hand in hand. Aside from the balls, rows on rows on rows of Belgian chocolates drew the biggest crowds of the night. People were tearing at truffles, sending the overwhelmed chocolate handlers into a Gene Wilder-like frenzy.
5. Meatballs are fun to eat, for various reasons. Holzman quipped, predictably, that “you can fit them in your mouth.” City Grit’s Sarah Simmons noted, “Everyone likes to eat a good ball every now and again.” And Stephen Kalt from Forneletto took a decidedly deeper take on why meatballs are so satisfying to eat: “They remind us of our childhood and the people they love. They’re comforting.”