The Naples Winter Wine Festival is the most successful international charity wine auction in the world, bringing together renowned vintners and chefs with wine enthusiasts and philanthropists to raise millions of dollars for underprivileged and at-risk children. Every dollar raised under the tent funds the Festival’s founding organization, the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF), whose annual grants and strategic initiatives have provided more than 200,000 children with the services and resources they need to excel. The 2017 event features one of the most prestigious lineups of wine and food talent the Festival has ever seen, who will work together to create spectacular pairings and unique meals for guests at the event.

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In 2013, Ryan Hardy opened Charlie Bird with Sommelier Robert Bohr. Located in the SoHo section of NYC, Charlie Bird’s Italian-inspired menu showcases Hardy’s inventive culinary style and inherent passion for quality product and service. In February 2016. Hardy opened Pasquale Jones again partnering with Boht and adding Grant Reynolds to the mix as partner. His menu highlights the restaurant’s two Stefano Ferrara ovens, delivering “Neo-NY” style pizza from one and roasted meats and vegetables from the other. The restaurants both offer a superb wine experience, featuring a moderately priced collection of 200-300 French- and Italian-focused selections. His talents and numerous accolades have been showcased in feature stories and appearances in Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, The Martha Stewart Show, Wine Spectator, Saveur, GQ, The New York Times and NBC’s Today Show.

Having the opportunity to sit down face to face with this Chef celebrity who will be preparing meals at the Festival was an exciting experience. Here is what he had to say:

What inspired you to originally get involved in the Naples Winter Wine Festival?
We do a lot of charity work in the hospitality industry. Working with children is inspiring and since my in-laws spend quite a bit of time there, it makes it a personal connection for me and my own children.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s particular Festival?
The weather! Of course as a New Yorker in January I can say that – but seriously, the camaraderie of the chefs and collectors alike coming together to sponsor this event is lots of fun.

Are there any hints you can give us about the menu you’ll be preparing for this year’s Vintner Dinner?
We are fortunate enough to be working with Chateau Haut Brion and would love to focus on the intricacies between their infamous red and my personal favorite, the Haut Brion Blanc.

How will you collaborate with vintner Turid Hoel Alcaras of Château Haut-Brion to augment the menu you’re preparing?
We are discussing the vintages, the selections and how the wines are showing before we write the food portion of the menu.

What is your favorite wine?
I love to drink different types of wines with the season. I’ve been fortunate enough to have cooked a private collector dinner with magnums of Haut Brion from 1899 and 1900 that were pretty spectacular. But, my favorite wines consistently year in and year out are from the Seysses family of Chateau Dujac.

How were you originally trained?
I traveled a lot after college – San Francisco, New York and everywhere in between. I found myself cooking along the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard with the incredible seafood, started a farm in Colorado to learn about vegetables, pigs, hens and eggs and then headed to Italy for further work. I’m not traditionally trained through some school – I actually have an accounting degree, if you can believe that – but I always followed my passion and curiosity to learn new techniques and new flavors.

What do you do to stay current on new trends? Are there 2 or 3 industry trends you find particularly interesting?
Eat, read, travel, repeat. I really avoid the trends in the industry. If we look to the wine world as inspiration, the best wine makers in the world tend to hone their craft and become more efficient, more consistent rather than upheave in trends – I like to follow a similar approach with food and let nature guide me through the construction of a dish.

Is there a chef you admire the most? If so, why?
One of my favorite chefs is definitely Michel Troisgros. His ability to have an incredible lineage, two beautiful restaurants and one of them in a barn really speak to my inner farmer!

Please describe one of your signature dishes.
I have a few – but my vegetables and crudo dishes are the stand out items on our menus – I would say the signature of Charlie Bird is probably the Razors Clams with fennel and pickled chiles and the Farro Salad with pistachio, parmigiano and basil would be the highlights.

Please share a favorite recipe of yours.
That’s too hard! Recipes require a lot of technique! For something simple – I would say pasta alio e olio – spaghetti with garlic and olive oil!

What are your five favorite places to eat in the world?
New York, Rome, Gallipoli (puglia), London and Mexico City