‘Top Chef’ judge signs on for Naples wine fest

The trip to space is off.

But the 2008 Naples Winter Wine Festival is shaping up with other fantasy auction lots and a lineup of celebrity chefs.

In July, the festival announced a few of its fancier lots, including a Virgin Galactic space trip with astronaut training.

“The space trip we’ve decided not to go forward with it,” said Don Gunther, the festival’s chairman and a trustee. “They’re not ready for it.”

While that’s a disappointment, Gunther says organizers continue to put together other special lots, including one that may offer tickets to Wimbledon.

Other announced lots haven’t changed. Those include a walk-on role on the hit TV show “24,” four tickets to the Academy Awards ceremony and the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, and a trip to South Africa.

When it comes to the chefs, there will be 10 new ones in 2008.

“We try to involve more and more chefs and try to get new ones every year,” Gunther said.

Emeril LaGasse won’t bring his bam and Wolfgang Puck isn’t on the menu of chefs for the coming year.

But 17 other nationally-known chefs will turn up the heat at some of Naples’ poshest homes as part of the three-day festival, the world’s most successful charity wine auction.

The chefs’ signature dishes will be paired with some of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines at private dinners fit for royalty.

Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” TV show, will participate in the vintner dinners for a fourth time. He’s the Chef de Cuisine, or honored chef, and helped secure the other culinary greats for the coming year.

Colicchio is the owner of Craft Restaurants. In 2002, he was named Chef of the Year by both “Bon Appetit” and Food Network. In 2000, he received the James Beard Best Chef: New York Award.

In a news announcement, Shirlene Elkins, chairwoman of the chef’s committee and a festival trustee, described Colicchio as “an extraordinary person whose culinary greatness is equaled only by his philanthropic spirit.”

“Tom’s reality TV show is such a big hit, we’re hoping he’ll arrange for one of the season’s winners to join him in preparing a vintner dinner," she said. "Our guests would love it.”

Other chefs for 2008 include two of this year’s James Beard award winners: Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, D.C. and Celina Tio of The American Restaurant in Kansas City.

“To have two James Beard winners for 2007 we think is pretty special,” said Andrea Steffy, a festival spokeswoman.

Also in the lineup is Georges Perrier of Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin, a Mobile Five Star Award winner for 25 years.

The other chefs are:

-- Michael Cimarusti, with Providence in Los Angeles.

-- Damien Dulas, with Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.

-- Jose Gutierrez, with Encore Restaurant in Memphis.

-- Lee Hefter, with Spago in Los Angeles.

-- Christopher Lee, with Gilt in New York.

-- Tony Mantuano, with Spiaggia in Chicago.

-- Luciano Pellegrini, with Valentino in Las Vegas.

-- Thierry Rautureau, with Rover’s in Seattle.

-- Julian Serrano, with Picasso at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

-- Ana Sortun, with Oleana in Boston.

-- Frank Stitt III, with Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham.

-- Bill Telepan, with Telepan in New York.

-- Scott Warner, with Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa Valley.

The festival will be held Jan. 25-27. There will be 29 vintners including John and Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Gunther said. “But we’re in pretty good shape.”

Last year, the festival topped its own world record, raising $16.4 million for children’s charities. Attendance is limited to about 550 people.

Tickets are $7,500 per couple and $20,000 for two couples reserving seating at the same vintner dinner.

For more information visit www.napleswinefestival.com or call 1-888-837-4919.

© 2007 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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