By: Jeanne Muchnick
The judges have spoken.
Christian Petroni, the charismatic chef behind the Fortina enterprise, is the next Food Network Star.
But so is Jess Tom. The self-taught cook and food novelist from Pleasantville, was named co-winner on the Sunday night finale, the first time in Food Network history the competition had ended in a tie.
Petroni was at the Armonk Fortina and addressed the crowd saying the competition was the craziest experience of his life, but that he couldn’t have done it without the support of his customers.
“The Bronx, Westchester and Fairfield counties, I love you,” he shouted.
As winners, Petroni and Tom will become part of the Food Network family, with a project/pilot to be developed.
Grace LoBello of Armonk was at Fortina and said she was thrilled Petroni won. “He exudes passion and puts that into his food,” she said.
Marie Millo, also of Armonk said she has known Petroni since 2001 when they both worked at Trotters in White Plains. “This was well deserved,” Millo said. “He is so charismatic and has a huge heart.”
Nick Nitti, a chef at Forno Rossi in Chicago actually flew in to be at Fortina for the finale. “Christian is such a humble guy. What I love about him is despite his success, he is still just a big teddy bear,” said Nitti.
The 34-year-old restaurateur who got his start at the former Peniche, a tapas restaurant in White Plains, was given the title Sunday night by celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis after beating fellow contestant Manny Washington, a firehouse chef from Orlando, Florida.
In total, Petroni competed against 17 different contestants to make it to the final three.