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Fine food mixes well with fine art

Randy Calleja (left) and Rhonda Zontelli will be part of the culinary team at the upcoming Art & Culinary Show hosted by the Rotary Club of New Richmond.

It's one crazy night when local restaurants and caterers come together for the annual Art & Culinary Show at R&D Banquet Hall in New Richmond.

During the show, coordinated by the Rotary Club of New Richmond, area chefs and culinary experts team up to put on an impressive spread out of a crowded kitchen facility.

The local gourmets all participate, said Randy Calleja, owner of Ready Randy's in New Richmond, to give something back to the community and to help raise money for a good cause.

This year's version of the Art & Culinary Show, which is the fifth annual, is scheduled for Sunday, April 18, at R&D Banquet Hall in rural New Richmond.

The food and spirits will be served starting at 5 p.m., with entertainment, art auctions and more being offered until 8 p.m.

More than 10 area restaurants and caterers have signed up to participate this year. More than 16 artists will also be on hand, demonstrating their skills and displaying some of their work.

"It's a great opportunity for everyone to promote themselves," Wrich noted.

Throughout the three-hour event, local chefs will be demonstrating the steps required for creating the special dish they are serving that night.

Then, on cue, servers appear in front of attendees with tasty samples of the recipes.

One of the event organizers, Jo Wrich, said the collaboration among all of the culinary artists is amazing. The culinary experts all set aside their competitive leanings and work side by side for the night.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," she said.

As the honorary co-chairpeople for the culinary portion of the event, Calleja and Rhonda Zontelli of Bellarietta's in downtown New Richmond are the epitome of business leaders who help make things happen in the community, Wrich said.

"What I truly respect about Randy and Rhonda is their open attitude about working with other professionals," she said.

"Everybody helps everybody," Calleja added. "It's really overwhelming how we all make sure that everyone who comes through the door that night has a wonderful experience."

Calleja said it's always been his philosophy that businesses should be involved in community events when called upon.

"It may be more difficult to do in trying times," he said. "But it's the right thing to do, so you should do it."

Besides, Calleja added, by giving back to the community that they serve, restaurants and all businesses build up more good will among potential patrons.

"That's what makes a small community," he explained. "You're not just a business in town, you're part of the community."

When the Art & Culinary Show first started five years ago, Wrich said it was a challenge getting culinary artists to participate.

Since then, it's been easier to get restaurants and caterers involved because they hear how much fun the show is and they hear how well everybody works together.

"It helps to show off the creativity we have here in New Richmond," Calleja said. "We have some great food here in the community."

Wrich said she's hoping that some of the newer restaurants in the area will join in the fun and participate in the show this April.

"It's an exciting event," Zontelli added. "People in the community are already looking forward to it."

Even the employees at the participating restaurants, who volunteer their time on the night of the show, have a good time -- even though it can be hectic at times.

"Many of the professional staff members come back every year," Calleja said.

As far as this year's menu, the details are still coming together.

Calleja said he is planning to serve pecan-encrusted walleye. J.V. Zontelli, chef at Bellarietta's, is still working on his culinary choice, but he will be using locally-produced ingredients from the new hydroponic farm near Baldwin.

Rhonda Zontelli said buying ingredients locally is the right thing to do and helps to support the area economy.

"Supporting local businesses -- it doesn't get any better than that,' she said.

In fact, buying local is this year's theme for the Art & Culinary Show. Organizers want area residents to become aware of the many entertainment and culinary choices that local businesses have to offer, Wrich said.

Other participating culinary artists include the Star Prairie Trout Farm, Suzanna's, Parkside Restaurant and Bar, Joseph's Family Restaurant, Hammond Hotel, Family Fresh, Bean Bag Coffee House and Acapulco.

Tickets are available for purchase at Ready Randy's, The Deerfield and The SPACE. Tickets for the event are $40.

"We haven't increased the price since we began," Wrich said. "We try to keep it at a reasonable rate, and past guests say it's well worth the price anyway."

Money raised at the event helps to fund the Rotary Club of New Richmond's STRIVE Scholarship program.

STRIVE (which stands for Students Taking Renewed Interested in the Value of Education) offers local high schoolers a scholarship for post-secondary education if they improve their grade point average by one point during their senior year.

The scholarship program has helped to send kids on a path to higher education.

"The money goes for a great cause," Calleja said.