La Vida steps up to the plate - again - for local culinary students

March 22, 2019

On Sunday, Feb. 27, Fork + Flask’s annual Winter Cocktail Party was the place to be for tasty snacks, high-powered bartending and generous guests. Owner Josh Grapski and Executive Chef Sean Corea donated a portion of the proceeds from this high-spirited competition to the of Italy Culinary Scholarship Fund.

Eight local mixologists brought their talents to bear on that Sunday afternoon, using local spirits from Dogfish Head Distilling. They pulled out all the stops with unusual ingredients that suggested a Food Network “Chopped” basket gone awry: DFH’s orange cordial Namasec, molasses bitters, Amaro (an Italian herbal digestif), the Italian apéritif Aperol made of gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Sipsmith sloe gin, Dolin Blanc (a fine vermouth), and Salers apéritif (a bitter mix of gentian root and white wine) … just to name a few!

(Totally off the subject, my live-in proofreader just expressed concern regarding the difference between a digestif and an apéritif. A digestif is a liqueur, often but not always sweet, sipped after a meal to aid digestion. Examples would include Cognac and Armagnac. An apéritif, such as vermouth, Campari or Dubonnet, is consumed before a meal, ostensibly to stimulate the appetite.)

It’s not unusual to see Cape Region food industry professionals coming forward to help local kids, and this year’s event at Fork + Flask was no different. The Touch of Italy Culinary Scholarship Fund provides tuition assistance to qualifying Delmarva high school students who successfully graduate from the Delaware Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program and similar curricula. Scholarships may also be awarded to candidates who have proven themselves proficient in the entry levels of food service. The funds help them continue their education at full-time professional culinary schools. Scholarship winners have attended or are currently attending New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Wor-Wic Community College, Delaware Technical Community College, Johnson & Wales University (where local chefs Pete McMahon and Mike Clampitt honed their skills), the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute – alma mater of Food Network’s Bobby Flay and our very own Dru Tevis at SoDel Concepts), and The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, the training grounds for such Cape Region luminaries as Kevin Reading, Josh Grapski and Hari Cameron.

The of Italy Scholarship Foundation thanks Josh Grapski, Executive Chef Sean Corea and Erica Wiegman of Fork + Flask, Sam Calagione and the brewers/distillers of Dogfish Head Distilling, top-notch Fork + Flask barkeeps Sean Norris (whipping up The Concord) and Ginger Breneman (creator of the Sloe Tenderoni), Kelli Grant’s Compelled to Sea G&Tini from Bethany’s 99 Sea Level, the Fizzy Lifting Spirit from Cooter Brown’s Rick Bowers, Delaney Twining from Nantucket’s, Lars Ryan’s Old Fashioned Generations from Dogfish Head, Big Chill Surf Cantina bartender A.j. Borrero, and Jill Anderson mixin’ it up at Touch of Italy.

The judges awarded their first prize to Fork + Flask’s Sean Norris, with Nantucket’s Delaney Twining and Rick Bowers (Cooter Brown’s) coming in at a very close second and third. The popular vote swung to Fork + Flask’s Ginger Breneman, with second and third place snagged by 99 Sea Level’s Kelli Grant and Cooter’s Rick Bowers respectively.

I know I write this all the time, but it’s true every time: The real winners are the local teens who dream of a career in the professional kitchen crafts or hospitality management. And thanks to this event, the generous sponsors (and the upcoming 4th annual Carnevale fundraiser on April 9), they are now that much closer to their dream.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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