Report from Atlantic City’s Pizza and Pasta Northeast Show
I just returned from three weeks on the road, culminating in a lively few days at the first ever Pizza & Pasta Northeast Show in Atlantic City where, in two presentation sessions I got to interview pizza maker extraordinaire Joe Beddia,
as well as three pasta luminaries (Antimo DiMeo, Hari Cameron, and Lorenzo Boni) on the future of pasta. In addition, I served, along with John Arena, as one of the head judges for the Caputo Cup Pizza Competition (along with about 20 other judges — there were way too many entrants for just a few of us to taste them all; as it was, I ended up tasting and judging over 30 pizzas, and that was in just one category — “non-traditional”). Apparently, there were some glitches in the final judging tally, so I’m still waiting for the final results (perhaps by the time I finish writing this we will have them — if not, I’ll add them as soon as I know). I’ll return to Atlantic City in a moment, but first I need to share a bit about my adventure the previous week in Northern California.
You see, I was scheduled to speak at a bread symposium in Napa on Tuesday, October 10th but, while visiting some old friends in Kenwood on the Sunday before, in the picturesque area of Sonoma County known as The Valley of the Moon (so called by Jack London, who once lived and wrote there), I was awakened at midnight by my friends, and was told to pack up and evacuate. A fire had been spotted on the adjacent hill, headed our way, spurred on by a rare blustery occurrence known as the “Diablo Winds.” I quickly packed up, drove down a long, windy, wooded hill, dodging fallen trees and branches, and emerged onto Highway 12, facing a vineyard that was on fire. I turned north towards Santa Rosa and called my hosts, Neal and Robin. “You need to get out quickly,” I told Neal. “The fires is on your side of the road now and spreading fast.” He told me, “We’re not leaving the horses” (his wife Robin, a true horse whisperer, trains and boards 7 magnificent horses). “Get as far away as you can; we’ve got hoses and will fight it off.” Click.
That was the last I heard from them till the following morning. The fires had spread across four counties by then, thousands of acres, and engulfed my former home town of Santa Rosa (I later learned than the house Susan and I had once owned was in the section that had burned badly — our former house was probably gone). The news reports I watched at 6 AM on Monday morning from my hotel in Petaluma, about 20 miles south of Santa Rosa (where I had arrived at 2 AM, crashed for 2 hours, showered, and turned on the TV), said that many neighborhoods had already burned down and that the fires were out of control, including throughout Kenwood and the next hill over, in Glen Ellen. The firemen said, “We’re not able to contain it — the winds are making it impossible to stop; all we can do is try to save as many lives as possible.”
Neal texted me as I slowly worked my way south on congested Highway 101 towards San Francisco (where my wife, Susan, was due to arrive in a few hours to join me for the symposium in Napa). “We’re still okay, but don’t know how long our water will hold out and there’s no power.” A few hours later they texted again, “We’re still good.” That was the last message I received on Monday. Nothing on Tuesday or Wednesday, when Susan and I were scheduled to fly home (my symposium in Napa was, of course, canceled, as Napa too was on fire). We called the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and reported my friends as missing. The deputy tried texting them, based on the info I gave her. She called back an hour later. “Your friends are still alive but they refuse to evacuate. We can’t make them leave and there’s no way up the hill to their place. But we at least know where they are. For now, there’s nothing else we can do.”
I got another text from Neal soon after. “We’re okay. The bread you brought us from the class you taught on Saturday is keeping us alive.” (I had, indeed, taught a couple of days of classes at Central Milling’s Baking School on Friday and Saturday, and brought Neal and Robin a bag full of loaves from the class when I arrived Sunday morning).
Silence again for a few days; no response to my texts. The fires were still raging and still not contained. I feared that the smoke had gotten them, if not the flames. I was disconsolate as I packed for Atlantic City, praying for a miracle, but fearing the worst. As Susan was driving me to the airport on Monday (the 16th), we got a text: “We’re still here. Looks like we’re going to be okay. And the horses too. Hope to have power back soon.”
They were able to recharge their phones in their car but, otherwise, had no power for a few more days but, by the time I got home this past Saturday from Atlantic City we were able to call them and talk with Neal, who gave us a blow by blow. Nearly two weeks had gone by since it began but he was now able to leave and get supplies and was allowed back in. Theirs was one of only a few houses still standing. He said the embers had been flying at them like missiles due to the Diablo Winds, but they were able squirt them out, one at a time. When the water ran out they used shovels and dirt. He told me, “The one thing that probably saved us was that four times during the past summer Robin made me clear out all the weeds on the property. I hated it but if I hadn’t done it they would have caught on fire like the property of almost everyone else did. Who knew, but it saved us. Guess it pays to listen to your wife.”
Bottom line: they’re all okay, even the horses, and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a miracle. A lot of my friends have been directly and tragically affected by these fires, the area will take years to recover, and my heart is still beating faster than usual as I think of all that might have happened as well as all that did. And now, well, it’s time to move forward….
I promised to report on the Pizza & Pasta Show in Atlantic City but am still waiting for the final, revised results. John Arena just texted that he should have them any minute now. Rather than prolong this post, which went in a totally different direction than I originally planned, I will pause here and post again as soon as I get the final results. So we’ll call this one Pizza & Pasta Interruptus or, as they say, To Be Continued….
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