by Virginia B. Wood

The best meal to be had in Austin on Sunday, November 10 was served in a restaurant but was not available to the public. That night, 16 Italian food-loving Austin cooks got together at Coyote Cafe to recreate the banquet menu from this fall's popular independent film, Big Night. Producers Rysher Entertainment had inserted a copy of the menu in the press kit and I was able to ask Deborah di Sabatino, the film's food stylist, some questions we had before planning the meal. A graduate of the Master's Program at the Culinary Center of New York, the luscious, authentic Italian food in Big Night was her first film assignment. "The menu in the film was somewhat different from what they put in the press kit, I think," said di Sabatino, admitting that chicken pieces were used to represent both the Lemon-Rosemary Roasted Capon and Rabbit on Polenta with Tomato Sauce and that the pan of sautéed grapes prepared by Segundo wouldn't have been part of a traditional meal. The grapes were a spur-of-the-moment innovation from writer/director/star Stanley Tucci. Di Sabatino worked closely with stars Tucci and Tony Shaloub, both of whom spent several months training in upscale Italian restaurants in New York and California in preparation for the film. "My kitchen, complete with its own generator, was built next door to the restaurant kitchen on the set," she explained. "We roasted lots of whole salmon and I probably made 30-35 of the timpanos while they were filming those scenes." Di Sabatino's biggest challenge was that all the food she prepared had to be edible and also to "read" well on film. She said she had heard of one other Big Night Party, at a restaurant called Toscano in Wilmington, Delaware.

For the Austin Big Night party, our task was much easier. We only had to trim the enormous banquet menu down to manageable proportions, have everyone choose a course to prepare, and develop or locate recipes for their dish. Because Coyote Cafe is closed on Sundays, Coyote GM Kevin Dott kindly offered the restaurant for the party. That meant we had a venue with plenty of space, banquet tables, china, silver and glassware, a complete commercial kitchen, a sound system, and a bar for smoking and making espresso. What a way to entertain! We located the soundtrack and other compatible Fifties recordings, everyone gladly chipped in to hire a dishwasher, and all that was left to do was cook. The banquet table was decorated with flower and herb arrangements from Lucinda Hutson's garden and piles of delicious rustic bread sticks and focaccia made by Lisa Fox. Each course was served by the guest who prepared it and many guests brought excellent Italian wines. The only things missing were Louis Prima and the post-party dip in the Atlantic. This is what we ate:

Caponata, Parma Ham, Focaccia, Crostini, Goat Cheese, Olives, Roasted Peppers (Tim Albright, 34th Street Cafe; Corey Harris, Chez Zee; Michael & Hallie Speranza, formerly of Speranza's)

Beef Consommé with Scallion & Mushroom Crepes (Jean-Luc & Denise Salles, Jean-Luc's Bistro)

Il Rissotto -- Spinach, Tomato, Seafood

(James & Marie Cahill, Austin Wine Merchant)

Il Timpano

(Emmett & Lisa Fox, San Gabriel Restaurant Group, Coyote Cafe)

Lemon-Rosemary Roasted Capon w/Polenta

Roasted Potatoes, Sweet & Sour Carrots, Sauteed Zuchinni, Green Beans (Virginia Wood; Chap Ross, 34th Street Cafe; Miguel Ravago,founding chef of Fonda San Miguel; Phillipe Mercier, Hallie & Michael Speranza,)

Biscotti, Cannoli, Pomegranate Granita, Bellini Sorbet,Grappa, Lemongello, Tequila Digestivo

(Virginia Wood; Rebecca Rather, Bread Alone; Lucinda Hutson; Hallie Speranza

A.J. Hernandez, Horizon Importing)

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