He spoke no English when he arrived here from Italy with his family at age 10, yet he grew up to become a professor of English literature at the University of Washington. The author of “The Unprejudiced Palate” and nine other books on food, wine and “the good life,” he was happiest in the garden, his wine cellar, the kitchen or at the table. He was officially Dr. Angelo Pellegrini, but Babbo to his family, and Pelle to just about everyone else who knew him.
The writer Henry Miller was a fan; the chef Alice Waters was among his many friends. He once shared a spit bucket with M.F.K. Fisher while judging a wine competition. The Mondavi family sent him grapes each year that he turned into wine that rivaled theirs.
A generation after his death in 1991, the values Angelo Pellegrini espoused—among them the importance of using fresh, local ingredients, eating food that is not only delicious but also healthful, and gathering people at the table to share a meal with wine and conversation—still resonate in a culture newly interested in the connection between the garden and the table.
To assure his legacy lives on, family and friends have formed the non-profit Pellegrini Foundation. Its vision is supported by four “pillars” –horticulture, viticulture, culinary arts and literature. Its efforts will focus on education and awareness.
“We want to inspire people to emulate Pelle’s life. We want to take his message to the masses,” says Armandino Batali, founder of Salumi, father of Mario, friend of Pelle and a director of the foundation.
“There’s a younger generation of cooks coming up who didn’t know Pelle,” observes Roy Breiman, another board member and culinary director at Cedarbrook Lodge. “How do we connect them with the older generation who did?”
One way is through events like the Angelo M. Pellegrini Harvest Dinner, a big, Tuscan, family-style feast to be held on Friday, September 19, at the Shilshole Bay Beach Club. Batali, Breiman and Holly Smith of Café Juanita are the lead chefs, assisted by a cadre of volunteers.
At this year’s dinner Tom Douglas and Jackie Cross, will receive the 2014 Pellegrini Award, first given in 2006 and now under the auspices of the Foundation. Past laureates include Batali, sausage-king Frank Isernio, chef Greg Atkinson, farmer Nash Huber, Grand Central Baking Company founder Gwen Bassetti, Chris Curtis, founder of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, and food marketer Jon Rowley. Douglas and Cross are the first restaurateurs to receive the award, and the first couple.
“If you think of Seattle restaurants, Tom Douglas comes to mind. I think he’s someone my grandfather would approve of,” says Tom Owens, the Foundation’s president. Including Cross in the honor “recognizes how much a force she’s been with him.”
“Jackie is a jewel,” agrees Angela Owens, Pelle’s eldest daughter. “My father would have been excited about what she is doing on the farm.”
I never realized how much work farming was until after we bought our acreage in the Eastern Washington town of Prosser,” says Cross. “But that said, we completely underestimated the satisfaction of bringing in the crop and seeing our young chefs with their hands in the dirt and on the stoves. It takes great effort to create a sustainable farm, but the rewards are even more remarkable. Of course, Angelo knew this 60 years ago and it’s an honor to follow in his footsteps.”
“I wonder what Angelo would think of me winning an award with his name tattooed all over it?,” says Douglas. “After all, I’m a restaurateur and a cookbook writer, neither of which occupations he held in high esteem. But I am also an “American cook,” “humane,” “unprejudiced,” “thankful” and by all means a good dinner guest. I am truly honored to carry forward his inspiring message. Angelo, you rock!”
Tickets for the Harvest Dinner and award presentation are $150 per person, available through Brown Paper Tickets. The evening includes cocktails, food inspired by Pelle’s books and, of course, wine. Just to whet your appetite, below are pictures from last year’s event. Buon appetito a tutti!