Noted chefs kick off 20th annual Project Self-Sufficiency's A Taste of Talent

| 17 Feb 2016 | 01:05

By Laurie Gordon

It may have been a frigid, freezing Friday morning, but in the kitchen of Perona Farms, some of the regions most highly acclaimed chefs were cooking up some fun and laughter. Though they have a lot in common and many stories to share, these culinary gurus don't often get to see each other because they're each busy heading up their own restaurant or business ... and they work some long hours. Each gave up meetings, prep for a 10 am pre-Valentine's Day openings or given the late hours they work, good old fashioned sleep to gather in the name of Project Self-Sufficiency for a 9 a.m. photo shoot.

The gathering was to kick off the planning of this year's A Taste of Talent, which will take place at Perona Farms on Monday, April 18, beginning at 6 p.m. This will mark the 20th anniversary of the signature event. Stations from more than 30 of the area’s finest restaurants will be placed throughout Perona Farms, allowing patrons to meet and mingle with the chefs while sampling some of their most famous culinary creations.

"We've been involved for the past 15 years," said Jennifer Koza, owner of The Chocolate Goat in Lafayette, "We'll be featuring our Belgian chocolate and chocolate-covered pretzels. Being the Friday before Valentine's Day, the gathering fell on one of the biggest days of the year for her business which was opening at 10 but she said, "I wanted to be a part of this kick off. Project Self-Sufficiency is such a great cause."

The chefs were recently recognized for their longtime support of Project Self-Sufficiency, a local nonprofit agency that specializes in services for low-income families in Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties. Members of the group have supplied gourmet cuisine at various events throughout the years, most notably the large-scale epicurean fundraising event, A Taste of Talent, and their collective effort has not gone unnoticed.

“The board and staff at Project Self-Sufficiency would like to celebrate these wonderfully talented individuals for exercising their culinary philanthropy skills on our behalf,” remarked Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency. “Some of these chefs have supported our agency since its inception, and all have been involved in A Taste of Talent for decades. A Taste of Talent is the cornerstone of our fundraising campaign. The collective efforts of these individuals have made it possible for us to keep our doors open year after year. We are humbled by their support.”

Rick Niefenecker, chef and owner of Cafe Pierrot, which has locations in Andover and Sparta said, "It's great to see other chefs. We all work crazy hours, so it's rare that we can get together." Don Hall, owner of The Chatterbox in Augusta, added, "I think it would be great if somehow we could get together once a month."

Perona Farms executive chef Kirk Avondoglio will be working alongside representatives from Project Self-Sufficiency to coordinate the restaurants participating in the effort. A longtime collaborator with Project Self-Sufficiency, Avondoglio is pleased to be able to throw his support behind the agency’s largest fundraising event of the year. “What a wonderful event. I look forward to it every year. It’s nice to see all of the chefs come together. There is a lot of camaraderie and it does so much for the people served by Project Self-Sufficiency. It’s their biggest fundraiser of the year."

A Taste of Talent is one of the premier culinary event in northern New Jersey, and is held each April at Perona Farms (350 Andover-Sparta Road, Andover) on behalf of Project Self-Sufficiency. Patrons enjoy sampling hors d’oeuvres, entrees and desserts from more than 30 area restaurants. Sponsorship packages for A Taste of Talent range from $500 - $25,000, and a limited number of individual tickets are usually available at a cost of $200. This incredible event sells out every year so purchasing tickets early is strongly encouraged. To obtain tickets to this amazing event, become one of its sponsors, or to find out more information about the programs and services available at the agency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit For Taste of Talent on the web site, click on "Fundraising" then "Taste of Talent."

Chefs2: From left to right, Andre de Waal (Andre's), Kirk Avondoglio (Perona Farms), Brad Boyle (Salt Gastropub, Orchard Beer Garden), Rick Niefenecker (Cafe Pierrot), Jennifer Koza (The Chocolate Goat), Pete Freund (Cliff's Homemade Ice Cream), Rich Hashway (Krave), Don Hall (The Chatterbox).

Chefs 1: Kirk Avondoglio and staff members at Perona Farms prepare food at their station at last year's A Taste of Talent.