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May 21, 2009

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Celeb chefs to take over local restaurant for a good cause

Dan Rendine and John O’Connell share a dream. Although the two men met through this year’s judicial race — Rendine is a candidate for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and O’Connell is the Democratic ninth ward leader — it was their mutual passion for cooking that brought them together in the inaugural Citizen Chef Night in West Mt. Airy. For three days (May 26-28), the two men and Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop owner John Ingersoll will take over the kitchen at Bacio, Italian bistro at 311 West Mt. Pleasant St., for a fundraising event to benefit West Mt. Airy Neighbors.

“It’s always been a fantasy to run a restaurant,” O’Connell said. “You know you don’t really want to run it but just get in the kitchen for a couple of nights. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.”

The idea came from a conversation with Bacio owner Jay Saponaro.

“Jay was telling me that he had not had a vacation in two years and he sort of joked, ‘Why don’t you run the kitchen for a few days in June when it’s slow?’” O’Connell recalled.

It was Saponaro who suggested doing it as a fundraiser and creating an original menu.

“The only thing I had to do was find a really good chef to go along with what I’m capable of doing,”  O’Connell said.

O’Connell immediately thought of Rendine who was recently profiled in the Philadelphia Daily News. The article mentioned that Rendine loved to cook.

“It’s just a hobby,” Rendine said. “It started with my grandparents. I grew up in South Philly with my maternal grandparents who cooked every day and I watched them.”

Rendine, who is an attorney, said it has always been his dream to cook at a restaurant.

“When John called me I was astonished, flabbergasted,” he said.

The duo added Ingersoll to help with a cheese course and the dessert station. They are offering a full menu with appetizers, pasta, veal, chicken and fish. Rendine will prepare Italian classics such as veal osso buco, chicken saltimbocca and chicken cacciatore.

O’Connell said the chefs will pay for the ingredients themselves, but they will not keep any of the profits.

“We will pay ourselves back for the cost of the food but then the profits will go to WMAN,” he said.

“It’s a large menu,” O’Connell noted. “Some people say it’s ambitious but we want it to be like a regular restaurant.”

The three men will handle all of the food preparation as well.

“We are going to buy all of the ingredients fresh each day,” he said. “Spend the afternoon ... chopping and dicing and then the evening cooking.”

Saponaro will get his vacation, beginning with Memorial Day weekend when the restaurant will be closed. It will reopen on Tuesday for the citizen chef nights. For reservations, contact O’Connell by e-mail at john@elfantwissahickon.com, or by phone at 267-312-1925.


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