Volume XVII, Issue 31 # July 30 - August 5, 2009

The Feast of the Season

There’s no better eating and no better cause than Rod ’n’ Reel’s Annual Celebration of Life Gala

by Margaret Tearman

Three months into a new job, Rod ’n’ Reel’s executive chef Antonello Marangi faces the biggest event of his career: dinner for 1,400 revelers at the Chesapeake Beach restaurant’s 28th annual Celebration of Life Gala.

“Even with a bad economy, people are generous with this good cause,” says chef Antonello Marangi. “Last year we had 1,400 guests. We’ll be ready for 2,000.”

As a chef in such busy restaurants as Osteria 177 in Annapolis, Marangi had “been there, done that” on the usual busy holidays.

Then he learned about the scope of Rod ’n’ Reel’s signature event, the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

“The press banquet for the gala was my first challenge,” he told Bay Weekly. “The gala itself is going to be the final exam before my graduation.”

The confident kitchen maestro isn’t sweating it. “I have a great team in place,” he says, “and they have already done this 27 times. My challenge is to make it the best gala yet.”

Italian Roots

Marangi was born in Torremaggiora, Italy, a small southern village in the “heel of Italy.” His grandmother ignited his passion for food and cooking.

“As an only child, I was always around my grandmother,” Marangi recalls. “I nibbled when she wasn’t looking.”

His favorite was her stuffed eggplant.

“It is a simple recipe,” Marangi says. “She cut off the top and mixed the inside with eggs, breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. She stuffed the eggplant with this mixture and simmered it, standing up, in vegetable stock. It is a traditional cooking technique in Southern Italy. It has an unbelievable flavor.”

Another traditional dish, pancotto, or cooked bread, soothes moments of homesickness.

Chef Antonello Marangi’s
Bay Rockfish

For each portion:

• 7 oz rockfish filet
• 1 pinch each salt and pepper
• 1 tsp chopped garlic
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1⁄4 cup white wine
• 1 tsp chopped shallot
• 4 oz escarole
• 1⁄4 oz golden raisins
• 1⁄4 oz toasted pine nuts, chopped
• 5 Kalamata olives

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Dredge in oil, garlic and herbs. Pan-sear on both sides until brown, finish in the oven.

Wilt the escarole with raisins, pine nuts and olives.

Serve fish on top of escarole garnished with a slice of lemon, fresh basil or parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

“My grandmother would gather vegetables from local farms, like escarole, rapini, all the wild greens that grew around us. She added potatoes, unpeeled garlic, cherry tomatoes and cooked it all in the same pot until the vegetables were done. Day-old bread was added at the end, to soften it, and then olive oil was drizzled on the top. It was a magic pot.”

Food is Marangi’s passion, and cooking is his heritage. “I have two uncles who are chefs,” he says, “and my father was a baker. It is a family tradition.”

American Seasoning

At 17, Marangi followed his father to America.

“I lived with my father in Annapolis for one year,” Marangi says. “Then I moved to Pittsburgh for three years, where I got a job managing a friend’s pizza shop.” It was the budding chef’s first taste of American fast food.

“In Italy, eating is more casual. Even in a pizza shop, we sit down, talk and slowly enjoy our meal,” Marangi says. “Americans are much faster.”

After three years, Marangi returned to Annapolis.

“I wanted to stretch myself,” he says. “I wanted to try something different from a restaurant.”

He earned an associates degree in engineering from Anne Arundel Community College. Even so, he could not deny his true passion: cooking.

“I just continued to cook, got my sous chef certification, took classes in sanitation and management and went back to what I knew best,” he says. He joined his father in the kitchen.

“My dad and I were the first bakers at Giolitti’s in Annapolis,” Marangi recalls. “I baked there for four years, then moved on to Piccolo Roma, where I was both a baker and sous chef.”

The job became Marangi’s life. “I did all the pastry and breads,” he says. “At night I worked the grill. I typically worked 65 hours a week, sometimes 70. But I was much younger then.”

At Osteria 177, Marangi ran the kitchen. “I did all the specials,” he says. “Everything was from scratch, the pasta, the bread, it was all homemade.”

The move to Rod ’n’ Reel has challenged Marangi with more than the Gala. “Osteria 177 had a capacity for about 100,” he says. “Here it is many times that. We serve four dining areas from one kitchen.”

Cooking Up a Gala

Food, fun and entertainment await at the 28th annual Celebration of Life Gala.

On August 6, when the Rod ’n’ Reel hosts the 28th annual Celebration of Life Gala, that one kitchen will produce a lot of food. Abundance is what the huge fundraising event is best known for.

“We are finalizing the menu this week,” Marangi says. “We will serve the traditional food; lobster of course. But I have been asked to make an Italian theme. I think there are high expectations.”

One traditional Sicilian dish, arancini or little oranges, is on the hors d’oeuvres menu. “They are little rice croquettes,” says Marangi. “They turn a golden color when fried and so look like small oranges.”

The buffets will, as always, be piled high: mini crab cakes, clams casino, mussels, shrimp prepared at least two ways, scallops wrapped in applewood bacon, crab imperial stuffed mushroom caps, stuffed endive leaves with boursin spread and caviar, mini chicken cordon blue, grilled tenderloin.

That’s just for starters. The main buffets include carving stations with top round and pork loin cooked in apple cider, seafood lasagna, sushi and antipasto tables.

The chef’s special dish?

“I’m very excited about my seared rockfish with escarole, raisins, pine nuts and olives,” Marangi says. “It is one of my favorite things.”

He will also bake a dozen sheets of foccacia for mini sandwiches.

“I need to find out if I still have the skill,” he says. “It will hopefully be a walk in the park for me. Bread is in my blood.”

As always, there will be a whole room of desserts: cakes, tortes, pies, cheesecakes, tiramisu, petite fours, cream puffs … to name a few. Here too will be a taste of Italy. “We will have one table with Italian cookies and espresso,” says Marangi.


With the big event just days away, work is beginning. To assist the Rod ’n’ Reel team, Marangi has enlisted volunteers.

“I’ve asked a few friends, all members of the Chesapeake Chef Association, to help me out covering all the stations,” he says. “They are all happy to volunteer to such a good cause.”

Marangi can use all the help he can get. “Even with a bad economy,” he says, “people are generous with this good cause. Last year we had 1,400 guests. We’ll be ready for 2,000,” says the chef, who lives in Crownsville and plans to sleep over the night before.

Come prepared to eat from 7:30 to 10pm on Thursday, August 6. Advance tickets $125; $150 at the door. Each year’s event contributes over a quarter million dollars to the American Cancer Society.