Oh what a weekend this was! Since October is Italian American Heritage Month, it makes a perfect time for the National Italian American Foundation’s Anniversary Gala Weekend. The weekend consisted of a private dinner with Lidia Bastianich, an Italian expo filled with vendors from all over Italy, then finished off with the main event: The 43rd Anniversary Gala.
An Evening with Lidia Bastianich
The weekend commenced on Friday, October 12 with a meet and greet with Lidia Bastianich, the Emmy award-winning television chef, author, and restaurateur. The book signing was followed by a private dinner with Lidia over some typical Pugliese food, since Puglia was the region of honor this year. As everyone was enjoying their Burrata over squash and broccoli rabe, Lidia talked about her experiences as an Italian immigrant and how she achieved the American Dream. Lidia spoke about her hardships moving from Friuli Venezia Giulia to the United States. She is an inspirational example of how passion and ambition can lead you to success.
On Saturday October 13, the National Italian American Foundation put together an Expo filled stations of Italian companies promoting their products or services. Many of the stations gave away samples of food, wine, and olive oil. Companies such as Alitalia and Ferrero had booths showcasing their products as well. The best part about the Expo is that it’s open to the public so everyone is welcomed to join the fun. During the Expo, the NIAF organized various presentations such as the history of gelato making by Gianluigi Dellaccio and several other educational talks.
The 43rd Anniversary Gala
On October 13, the National Italian American (NIAF) held its annual Anniversary Gala. The black-tie event took place at the Marriot Wardman Park in Washington D.C. and it was a spectacular night of eating, good wine, great company, and singing. Now that’s how Italians celebrate! Before entering the Marriot Ballroom, the flashes were going off as journalists were capturing this unforgettable moment, as all the attendees trickled in wearing their ball gowns and tuxedos. Once we entered the ballroom and took a seat, both the Italian and American anthems were sung by Tenor Marco Florante to initiate the start of the celebration.
As the attendees enjoyed their antipasto with famous Altamura bread from Puglia, the President of Puglia, Hon. Michele Emiliano, represented the region of honor by taking the crowd on a virtual trip through the magnificent region. No Pugliese dinner would be complete without Orecchiette con cime di rape (orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe) one of the most traditional Pugliese dishes. Lidia Bastianich was up at the podium again speaking about her life post World War II and her move to the U.S. Here, Bastianich stated “I am an immigrant and, yes, you cannot speak of Italian history unless you speak of immigrants.” She also quoted Sophia Loren when speaking about her Italian culinary empire: “Everything I have, I owe to the phenomenal Italian culinary tradition.”
Following the delicious dinner and many awards, the oldest a cappella singing group, Georgetown Chimes, graced us with Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” as NIAF Board Member and Gala Auction Chairman Dr. John Rosa conducted the live auction. The evening ended with Argentine opera singer Carlos DeAntonis singing Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro`” and “Volare.” The whole crowd chimed in while enjoying a rum-soaked almond sponge cake with chocolate cream and coffee buttercream, topped with a chocolate ganache, followed by Italian coffee from Gala sponsor Lavazza.
The evening was not over yet, the real party was after the dinner and outside the ballroom. Once everyone made their way to the after party, heels came off and drinks were flowing as everyone sang and danced along to popular Italian and American songs.
I was very fortunate to not only attend such spectacular events, but to be chosen as one of 29 students to be part of the NIAF on Campus Fellow ship program. Through this program, I met wonderful people who share the same passion as me and I made unforgettable memories with them. NIAF brought us together, and by the end of the weekend we all felt like “una grande famiglia”, despite the fact that we came from different parts of the country. What ultimately brought us together was our traditional Italian upbringing and our love for the culture, which is what NIAF stands for. The entire weekend was filled with celebrations of being Italiani with exquisite food, wine, and fun.