SOPAC’s ‘Savor the Arts — an Evening of Culinary Adventure’ Was Huge Success

From the South Orange Performing Arts Center:

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, SOPAC hosted a sold out crowd for Savor the Arts –An Evening of Culinary Adventure in the Loft. Patrons mixed and mingled, as several food and beverage vendors displayed their Garden State farm-to-table wares. SOPAC topped the evening’s tastings off with a chef slam featuring Kwame Williams (Montclair) and Leia Gaccione (Morristown and Madison) , two up-and-coming chefs from the New Jersey restaurant scene, judged by a panel led by celebrity chef Ariane Duarte (Ariane Kitchen & Bar). At the end of the night, the chef slam winners were announced along with Peoples Choice awards for best food and beverage offerings. Local foodies made for a sold out event, and finished the night with a host of new food and restaurant ideas.  

Chef Leia Gaccione (South+Pine and Central+Main American Eateries) gained bragging rights –  twice; she won the Chef Slam and the Peoples’ Choice for best food tasting. Chef Kwame Williams (Vital Dining) did not disappoint, however. Chef Ariane and her judges’ panel were very much impressed with both entries. Given only 5 ingredients, with a few pantry staples, each chef created a tasty mélange of culinary delight.

The Peoples’ Choice award for best beverage tasting went to Ironbound Hard Cider. Along with their stellar hard cider portfolio, Ironbound serves up a social mission – Ironbound seeks to usher in the rebirth of heirloom Newark cider apples, while fostering environmental repair and workforce development.

Chef Leia Gaccione served as Bobby Flay’s Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine for seven years; her restaurant South+Pine American Eatery was named one of the top 30 restaurants in the state and Critics Choice Best American Restaurant by NJ Monthly. 

Chef Kwame Williams honed his considerable skills working his way through the ranks of fine dining establishments. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Chef Kwame Williams worked at some of NJ’s top restaurants and now runs Vital Dining in Montclair. 

Celebrity chef Ariane Duarte, well known for her appearance on Top Chef and as a Beat Bobby Flay winner, led the chef slam Judges’ Panel.  Duarte attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and worked at many famed dining establishments. She currently runs Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona.

Emcee and wine enthusiast Hank Zona (The Grapes Unwrapped) was on deck to keep the evening flowing and to guide Savor guests through the vendor pairings and chef slam.  Dan Lipow (The Foraged Feast) provided the surprise, and foraged, ingredients that Chefs Leia and Kwame were required to incorporate into their judged dishes.

Be on the lookout for more food, drink, and culture pairings at SOPAC. For more information on his event go to or call Donna Coallier at (973) 393-7541.