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La Frieda's Mark Pastore on the Birth of Meatball Madness

In just six days, the highly anticipated New York City Wine and Food Festival hits New York with a flurry of events, panels, tastings, and parties. One of the new events this year, one that sounds incredibly appealing, is the sold out Meatball Madness. To get a sense of what this event will be like and how it came to be, we gave sponsor Mark Pastore of Pat La Frieda Meats a ring. We'll let him explain:

Pastore: [Festival founder] Lee Schrager came to me after SoBe in Miami last year and he said, 'Mark, I know you want in on the Wine and Food Festival.' Allen Brothers always have Burger Bash, but we weren't sponsoring anything. He said it would be bigger than Burger Bash and it would blow the roof off the place.

I said Lee, meatballs?! I do burgers and steaks. So I'm skeptical. And he's telling me how much it's going to cost, $25,000 to $30,000 plus meat. You have to give a sponsor's check, and then the meat, and then the testing of the meat, and I had to do an online auction. I said to myself, who wants meatball?

But you know what? Everyone he asked said yes, and then Harold Dieterle came up to us and asked to come in, and Joey Campanero got in. All 29 are all top chefs. That's the only event that they're all in. They pretty much all have to do a classic Italian meatball, but what's nice is they're going to do a side dish with it, so it allows them to be creative.

The only negative part is that Josh Ozersky has been admitted as a contestant. (We think that Lee has a soft side for animals.) A lot of chefs come up to me and say why is Josh in it? They're all talented chefs, and he's just not. So what he did is he got a talented chef, Michael Cirino, to do it with him.

I have no idea who's going to win, because with [judges] Frank Bruni, Jeffrey Steingarten, and Gail Simmons, it's dangerous. One's nastier than the next! I have some contenders in mind, but I'm not going to mention it because I'll get hate mail. And these chefs are taking it seriously. They call me every day asking, "What should I do? What should i put on it?" I think it's going to be the event this year. Everybody involved with it is someone big.
· All New York City Wine and Food Festival 2009 Coverage [~ENY~]