I was ready! It was going to be a Cannoli Throwdown. And I was bringing my A-game to the table.
Kathy Wakile from Bravo TV’s hit show Real Housewives of New Jersey was coming to Kansas City to talk and cook at The Hen House Market Culinary Celebration. The promoters of the show wanted me to do a cannoli demo with her.
Wakile is also known as the Goddess of Cannoli. She sells her cannoli kit along with her new dessert line, Dolce Della Dea, online and through some stores in New York and New Jersey. This was my chance to show Kansas City and the rest of the country who the King of Cannoli really was.
Wakile’s visit to Kansas City started off at my family’s restaurant on Saturday. She arrived with Hen House Market Team Members and I was there in the lobby to greet her. We hit it off immediately, discussing New Jersey, our family restaurant and cannoli.
You see, a lot of people don’t that know my father lived in New Jersey through his childhood and Kathy and Rich Wakile live very close to my cousin’s home.
Dinner started off like all other grand affairs at my family’s restaurant with Lobster Cappuccino, Scampi alla Livornese, a pasta combo course, some veal dishes and chops along with slow roasted pork shanks. Dessert, well that is another story.
I was so busy in the kitchen but I heard from the server that he showed the dessert cart and everyone ordered something different. Great. I would help prepare the dessert and decorate the plates.
The waiter recited the order over the microphone and his last dessert request was, of all things, a cannoli. Yes, a cannoli and it was Kathy Wakile who ordered it. Any other time I would not be nervous because I have served presidents, royalty, sports figures and numerous actors and actresses, but not anyone who was known as a Cannoli Goddess.
You see, I make cannoli every day. Hundreds of them. Cannoli is a part of my life. I celebrate the cannoli and my restaurant, on TV, in my writing and of course with my family. So instead of doing anything different, I served her one of my authentic cannoli like I serve the hundreds of people each day.
The servers brought the desert to the table and I kind of hid around the corner in the private room waiting for the reaction. I saw Wakile bite into the cannoli and smile. I saw take another bite in another. She then told everyone at the table that the cannoli was absolutely delicious.
At that time I walked in and asked how everything was. I looked at Wakile and she smile again and said, “Seriously Jasper, they are absolutely delicious.”
My night was complete, I was honored. I was also quite relieved. Kathy Wakile just told me that my cannoli was delicious. Ah La Dolce Vita. Life is good.
After that moment, I felt like everyone in the room was part of my family. The night was young, it was time to relax and talk to Wakile about our appearance to next day in Fox4-TV and at the Hen House Celebration.
I told Wakile that I would have her all set up for TV and ready to go. I would have her cannoli shells and her filling that she had shipped to me along with platters and everything she needed for TV.
I told her not to worry, this is something I do every week on local TV stations. I also told her don’t worry about being on stage with me at the celebration at the Overland Park Convention Center. I did ask her what she wanted to do and she said she would just like to talk to the guest and answer questions. She said we should talk about the cannoli and her new kit, The RHWNJ TV Show and I would fill the cannoli while she was talking. No problem.
Actually, I was quite relieved that we were not going to do a throwdown. I mean seriously why would we. I love her cannoli — I tasted them when they arrived via air mail — and she loved mine. That’s all that mattered. We did not have to compete on stage for any bragging rights.
At this time I felt comfortable talking to Wakile and, more than that, I realized she was a real person. No Hollywood actor attitude and no ego. She was a real person. For once, a TV name of was correct. She was indeed A Real Housewife of New Jersey. No doubt. And her husband Rich was the same.
We spent three more hours talking and laughing until I remembered we all have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and be at the TV station by 7 a.m. the next day. We said good night with one last toast of Limoncello before she and her husband left.
I arrived home and thought I would relax and perhaps do a little reading before I went to bed. No sir, it wasn’t going to happen. I was still overwhelmed that Wakile gave me a nice review of my cannoli but more than that, I was anticipating the next morning. I was anticipating our appearance on stage. I was excited. Definitely excited.
The car service picked up Wakile and her husband and we arrived at Fox4 to go on air live. Wakile and I set up in the kitchen area and her husband immediately went into the newsroom and sat at one of the side anchor desks. Everyone started to laugh and we all were certainly comfortable. He relaxed the whole newsroom including the anchorpersons and the weatherman.
While Rich Wakile was sitting behind the anchor desk, I looked at him and told him he looked like a natural anchorman. At that time, he whispered that that was his dream. He wanted to be an anchorman or weatherman.
We all laughed while he had this big smile on his face, but I took him pretty seriously so I asked the producer and of course the weatherman Joe Loria if Rich Wakile could sit there and possibly help with the weather. They were excited and asked him to join them on the weather segment after Wakile finished talking about her cannoli.
Wakile did a 7-1/2 minute interview that was flawless. She was ready and so informative. Believe me, I could take a lesson or two from her. When she finished, the camera went to Loria and there was her husband standing in front of the green background talking about the weather.
Everyone was smiling and in all my years visiting local TV stations this may have been one of my best times. He did a fantastic job and I could not believe how everyone was so happy with the both of them. They invited them back the next time they came to Kansas City.
We returned to the hotel at the convention center and Kathy and Rich Wakile prepared for their noontime appearance while I went to the convention center to set up for a Pasta 101 cooking demo, prepare for Wakile’s cannoli demo and of course to warm up the audience. Time flew by and before you knew it, my cooking demo was over and someone announced that Kathy and Rich Wakile were in the building. You should’ve heard the crowd.
I’ve done many cooking demos and of course had many guests from around the country, noted chef’s and of course food TV stars, but Wakile might have been just the best we have ever had at the Hen House Celebration.
Before she went on stage, David Ball, the owner of the Hen House Markets, went up and greeted Wakile and her husband and thanked them for coming to Kansas City and then told them he wanted them to knock it out of the ballpark. They smiled, and Ann Peterson, the emcee for the day, announced their names and of course me and we all went up on stage. You should’ve seen the standing ovation. Talk about impressive.
Wakile began preparing the cannoli and Ann Peterson went down into the crowd at convention center and immediately started asking questions. The Q lasted for over one hour and at that time, Wakile went to a table to sign autographs while I passed out cannoli.
You should’ve seen the line. It took more than 90 minutes to get everyone through to take pictures and to meet her. She was overwhelmed and never took that smile off her face. Rich Wakile stood right by her side and greeted every guest also. Talk about a real family.
I had been talking to Rich Wakile on the side and he told me he really wanted a good Kansas City steak and perhaps some barbecue. I thought about all the places I could take them and told my wife to be prepared to go out for a late lunch.
When we finished we got in to my car and I offered them some different places to eat and we all decided on the same place, Jack Stack Barbecue. I mean, think about it, out of this world barbecue, excellent steaks and of course some of the best side dishes in Kansas City.
We arrived at Jack Stack and sat down at a table and Lisa and I made some recommendations along with the server. We decided on some baby back ribs, crown prime beef short ribs, Kansas City strip steak, burnt ends and of course side dishes of baked beans, cheesy corn, coleslaw and of course French fries.
We also asked the server to bring some of the salmon appetizer and some of their delicious tossed salads to start with. We shared some local Boulevard Beer and our lunch began. Everything that came out the kitchen was absolutely delicious and it was so great to watch two people enjoy our cities famous barbecue fare.
We finished our dinner with some local Roasterie Coffee, Carrot Cake and a perfect Crème Brûlée. The conversation never ended and we had many great laughs while sharing stories of our children, family and work.
To be honest with you, we barely even discussed Wakile’s TV show and I think that’s what brought us all closer together. This was not about TV, reality shows or anything else. It was all about making some new friends and enjoying a delicious meal together.
My wife Lisa and I took Kathy and Rich Wakile back to the hotel so they could pack for their late afternoon airplane ride back to New Jersey. We said our goodbyes in the car and exchanged phone numbers. When we all got out of the car, everyone hugged each other like we were old time friends and family. We promised to keep in touch and agreed to see each other when they came back to Kansas City for her appearance at L’Ecole Culinaire Cooking School on the Country Club Plaza on Dec. 2.
Lisa and I got back into the car and drove away and I looked at her and I said, “You know what, they are real people.”
Everyone thinks that it’s all about being a movie star and everything that goes with it but these were just two people who were starring in a reality show and loving everything about life and of course their family. As we continued on our ride home, we both agreed that we were lucky to have met such wonderful people and make new friends over the weekend.
Later that evening, I got on Twitter and Instagram and I noticed that Rich Wakile had tweeted about us and his visit to Kansas City. He also posted some pictures on Instagram from our dinner and added some kind comments. I was honored.
And so my friends, sometimes it’s not all about a competition. Seriously, why would I ever want to compete with Kathy Wallkill and her cannoli? After visiting with her and her husband for two days, it was more about friendship. Think about it, because of a simple and delicious dessert, a lasting friendship was made. Like I always say, I am one lucky chef.
I remember a quote that my grandfather used to recite. “Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro.” He who finds a friend, finds a treasure. This week, I realized the meaning.
Grazie Kathy and Rich.
Jasper’s Sidebar: Make sure you check out Kathy Wakile’s Cannoli Kit, loaded with cannoli shells and cannoli cream, this kit has everything you need to create small-bite versions of the scrumptious Italian dessert. Don’t forget to visit her atL ‘Ecole Culinaire on The Country Club Plaza
on Dec. 2.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.