WILMINGTON — She’s the number-one celebrity chef area foodies have requested to appear at GLOW Academy’s culinary fundraisers for nearly a decade.
Come spring, Ina Garten will take part in a private dinner for 20 people — virtually, that is.
READ MORE: GLOW Academy nonprofit expands to pre-K, will open all-boys school
“Garten stopped doing in-person events,” Beacon Education CEO Todd Godbey told Port City Daily Wednesday.
But it didn’t prevent the education nonprofit — formerly known as GLOW NC — from securing her a spot at the virtual table. Guests will enjoy a three-course dinner featuring Garten’s recipes, created by Pine Valley Market owner and chef Christi Ferretti.
The event is part of Beacon Education’s fundraising efforts, which support the state’s first single-gender public charter school, GLOW, and the soon-to-be-launched Spark Academy, slated to open four or five co-ed early childhood education centers by summer 2023.
A raffle will be held Jan. 20, with only 100 tickets sold for $1,000. Five winners will be allowed to invite three guests to the dinner as well.
GLOW has been hosting celebrity chef events for seven years. Food Network stars travel to Wilmington annually to cook private and public breakfasts, lunches and dinners at Landfall Country Club and on the school’s 4100 Sunglow Dr. campus.
The eighth annual fundraiser, featuring Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray, takes place Feb. 9 and 10. Money from the Jan. 20 raffle and the February events will be put toward Beacon programs most in need.
“The past couple of years, that has been in academic intervention and mental and socioemotional support coming through the pandemic,” Godbey said, “and preparing for our first graduation.”
GLOW enrolled its first class of 6th-grade students, made up of young girls from underserved low-income communities, in 2016. It has added a grade level every year since, an approach typical of charter schools getting their start.
The 2022-2023 school year has GLOW at full enrollment and its first class becoming 12th graders, set to graduate next spring.
The school itself has also grown from a staff of 30 to 65 and revenue has increased from $1.6 million to $6.6 million. The chef fundraisers account for 10% of operating expenses.
“Ina and Judy go way back to the beginning of the Food Network days,” Godbey said, referring to GLOW’s founder Judy Girard, former television executive who worked as president of the network for eight years.
Best known by the pseudonym Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten is celebrating her 20th year on Food Network. The New York Times bestselling author — as well as James Beard and Emmy awards winner — has released 13 cookbooks, from which Ferretti, a lifelong fan, will choose recipes to prepare.
“While Ina’s on Zoom, I’ll be cooking and then the diners can ask questions,” Ferretti said. “And Ina can comment on what I’m doing.”
Garten recently released 2022’s “Go-To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” It was inspired by pandemic cooking, which in the book Garten said had her rediscovering and recalibrating age-old recipes she loves: hasselback kielbasa, cacio e pepe, cinnamon-spiced shortbread and chipotle cheddar crackers.
“I probably have the most respect for her as a celebrity chef, for the simple fact there’s not one Ina Garten recipe you can’t follow — and it always works,” Ferretti said. “It’s foolproof.”
Garten’s catchphrase in many of her Food Network shows is: “How easy is that?”
“She’s obviously very meticulous and particular and takes a lot of care in what she does,” Ferretti said, adding that her personal favorite Garten recipe doesn’t normally need instructions.
It’s the comfort food of mac-and-cheese — only amped up in decadence with gruyere and white cheddar, nutmeg, butter and cream.
“I can make mac-and-cheese blindfolded,” Ferretti said. “And you can make it so many different ways. But the times I want hers, I will follow the recipe to a tee.”
Ferretti said after the raffle winners are chosen, she will take dietary restrictions into account to set the menu. The location of the intimate dinner, to take place in the first half of 2023, will be a bit of a surprise, much like the secret events hosted by GLOW’s dinner club, Rare — another perk that comes with the raffle win.
Only 100 people can join Rare, which has membership dues of $1,000, all to benefit the school. So far Rare, launched in spring 2021, has culled 65 members. The club began at a time when many chefs and organizations were getting creative hosting underground supper clubs as social-distancing measures were mandated by Covid-19.
To date, Rare has hosted four events, including a peek at the debut of downtown’s Seabird. Before Dean Neff opened to the public last year, Rare members had a first seating.
Ferretti has also helped host a summertime supper club event, a 60-person dinner on a farm she and her partner Kathy Webb-Ferretti own in Rocky Point. Coined “Dinner Impossible,” it welcomed Food Network’s Robert Irvine — host of “Restaurant Impossible” — and his team of chefs, with Ferretti and her Pine Valley Market crew helping staff cook and serve as well.
“The event was outside, alfresco on this little hill overlooking this beautiful pond,” Ferretti recalled, ”until a massive thunderstorm took place in the middle of it.”
The guests were loaded onto the back of tractor trailers and taken to the barn at the front of the property to enjoy cocktails and appetizers until the storm passed. Staff then dried off all the place settings and reset the scene.
“It was chaotic, but so much fun,” Ferretti said. “Everyone enjoyed it. and the food was outstanding.”
She remembers the lamb dish particularly as a standout. Irvine had created a thick syrup with rosemary, bourbon and brown sugar to roll the lamb in before coating it in a crust.
“It caramelized and tasted crazy-good — an idea I continue to use,” Ferretti said. “The desserts were mini pecan pies with a triple-cream brie, which was mind-blowing. At first, I questioned the brie on pecan pie, but the chefs were like: ‘Trust me.’ They were right.”
The dinner club experiences are intended to be one-of-a-kind and gain foodies access to places not otherwise available to the public.
“We host four dinners per year and other ‘pop up’ events,” Godbey said. “Members can pick and choose, and each is priced based on cost of execution. Members also get insider information about the food and wine scene.”
For instance, when End of Days released its premiere barrel of Survivors Cut bourbon, Rare club members were treated to a first taste.
“We have to keep blowing it out of the water so members return every year,” Ferretti said.
The local chef has volunteered for GLOW since its opening. She is drawn to its mission focused on the “whole girl” education model, complete with college preparatory coursework and social and emotional skills necessary to succeed in life.
“I’ve always had a heart for kids,” said Ferretti, who graduated with a degree in education and was a teacher before pursuing a culinary path. “When I attended the very first announcement meeting about the school, I was just moved by what they were doing.”
The school’s culinary program was introduced after the first chef event hosted by Emeril Lagasse in 2015. Ferretti has worked with seven of the featured chefs since, including Lagasse twice and Irvine three times.
She will be participating in 2023’s February event, again featuring Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray. It’s Ray’s first time at a GLOW fundraiser and she is bringing the crew from her Emmy-winning talk show to film scenes and capture the GLOW students helping teams prepare the food. The footage will be aired at a later date.
Beacon Education’s January raffle tickets are available here. On Jan. 20, all raffle ticket holders will gather for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres inspired by Garten’s recipes, as winning tickets will be drawn. The location will be disclosed as tickets are purchased.
February’s chef breakfast tickets, featuring Ray and Lagasse, are available here
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