Birthays and anniversaries are always special, but how do you honor a century? If you’re the Avondoglio family, owners of Perona Farms, you round up some of the best in the food world and you throw a massive tasting party.
“It was a challenge to figure out the best way to celebrate 100 years, but we immediately knew we wanted it to be a charity-driven event,” says Bryant Avondoglio, a fifth-generation member of the family who owns Perona Farms in Andover, New Jersey and the property’s director of operations. A culinary-focused event was a natural fit for this farm, whose history has always been tied to food.
It all began when Emil Perona purchased the 260-acre dairy farm in 1917. Perona, an entertainer, wanted a simpler life but soon learned the financial reality of owning a farm. Unable to keep up with the demands his cows put on his wallet, Emil began welcoming New Yorkers seeking a break from the city. His brother owned the famous El Morocco restaurant in Manhattan and sent many people his way. Soon, Perona Farms became known as a place to unwind and enjoy delicious food, thanks to his wife’s cooking.
Fast-forward to the 1950s and the food specialties division was developed, first distributing packaged meals to local supermarkets and specialty stores and eventually producing award-winning smoked fish products (the smoked salmon was rated No. 1 in the world by Cooks Illustrated magazine). While the smoked salmon business was sold in 2008 to allow the family to focus on special events at the farm, their connections to the culinary world have remained strong. “Thinking of all the wonderful chefs we have known over the years led us to the tasting-style reception event,” says Avondoglio of the 100th anniversary event on July 18. “It was designed in order to feature a large number of chefs and allow guests to explore all of our property—including the kitchens,” he adds.
Food wasn’t just the theme; it was the beneficiary as well. “Our family made a decision to support culinary education with this event and the James Beard Foundation’s programming and scholarships were the perfect fit,” says Avondoglio. Tickets were sold by the Perona Farms Foundation and the proceeds went directly to the James Beard Foundation National Scholars Program for culinary education and other foundation programming.
The event featured 40 chefs from around the country at 38 stations scattered indoors and out. “Chefs had a chance to be extremely creative and feature some of their personal favorite ingredients,” says Avondoglio. As a premier event venue with an apple orchard, Perona Lake, ballroom spaces and the 1930s cattle barn as part of its offerings, executing large events is nothing new for the Perona Farms team. Of course, bringing together 40 top chefs (including David Burke and Robert Irvine, among others) still presented its unique challenges. “The largest challenge was the communication and coordination with so many different chefs, but our team worked hard to ensure that we had a variety of cuisines represented and chefs properly placed throughout the property to provide a great guest experience,” he adds.
Live entertainment and a tethered hot air balloon provided some noncaloric distraction while the evening culminated with an impressive fireworks display. In total, 800 attendees (including the chefs and their teams) celebrated alongside the farm’s family and staff. “It was wonderful to see so many lifelong friends celebrating for a great cause,” says Victor Avondoglio, third generation.