Super Bowl 50 is still five weeks away, but Gina Gallo is deep into her game plan. The Feb. 7 contest at Santa Clara’s new Levi’s Stadium is practically home turf for the Napa winemaker. She’s not focused on the Big Game; it’s the night before that has her full attention.
For the 21st year, Gallo is among the planners of Taste of the NFL: Party with a Purpose, the pre-game charity gala that’s become the A-list event for celebrities and players. With the Super Bowl in the Bay Area, this year’s Taste of the NFL will be held at the Cow Palace on Feb. 6. Priced at $700 each, tickets are expected to sell out soon with net proceeds supporting local efforts to fight hunger. So far, Taste of the NFL has raised more than $22 million for that cause since it started 25 years.
Gallo is a third-generation winemaker for E. & J. Gallo Winery, the world’s largest family-owned winery and exporter of California wine.
Q: To the uninitiated, what is Taste of the NFL?
A: My short answer? It’s about family. It’s the “Party with a Purpose” – the best party of all and, at the Super Bowl, the hardest ticket to be had.
We have chefs representing each NFL city. (The committee) picks hot young chefs for each city, the rising superstars, and they each make the signature dish from their restaurant or a regional specialty. We try to keep the list of chefs a surprise, but it’s always a who’s who of the food world. There’s about 35 food stations in all.
Every chef has a (NFL) player for his team; lots of stars and Hall of Famers, too. The players are there at each food station. You eat great food and meet great players. They talk to everyone, especially to youth; that’s part of what makes this a great family event.
That combination of great chefs and NFL stars is unique. The chefs donate their time and their food. The NFL players donate their time, too. There’s also a silent auction with a lot of cool items.
Everyone there is doing it because they really believe in it. It feels special. To me, it’s magical. When you do experience it, why would you not support it?
Q: Who picks the chefs?
A: Wayne Kostroski (founder and executive director of Taste of the NFL); he started this whole thing. He has such a passion. He’s the master. He seeks extremely serious chefs, superstar talent; this is the Super Bowl! He started (25 years ago) with Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay. He goes after all the youth coming up, the young chefs, then gets them to volunteer everything – all of it!
Q: How long have you been involved?
A: I’ve been on the board for more than 20 years. I’ve been involved quite a bit this time because (the Super Bowl) is here. It’s work! Working with the NFL; it’s not easy. But we’re really blessed to have the NFL.
I first got involved because they were looking for a wine sponsor and they came to us. ... They had different wine sponsors at first, but after the second year, we were exclusive. It’s fantastic for our family to be involved; we’re all about pairing wine with food. The chefs are really amazing.
Q: What makes Taste of the NFL so special?
A: People (say) it’s all about food and football, but it’s really about hunger in America. One out of five people are hungry. It’s your neighbors. My father always said, “What about your backyard?” You’ve got to take care of your neighborhood. It’s really about taking care of each other.
How do we all play a part in fighting hunger? We team up with local charities, particularly local food banks. What I find fascinating, (the players) are super, super unbelievably supportive. They’re willing, grateful, giving, supporting. We’re the (Super Bowl’s) sanctioned charity and they believe in it.
Taste of the NFL board member
E & J Gallo Winery’s third-generation family winemaker has been part of the Taste of the NFL team for 21 years.