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HAMMONTON - Is it sauce or is it gravy, and what makes it the best?

The Hammonton Rotary Club hosted its inaugural Gravy vs. Sauce Competition on Sunday at Elvin’s Hall to reach a ruling in the great debate.

And the verdict is, according to the Rotary Club’s poll — gravy.

Thirty different sauces were put to the test to determine who made the best sauce (or gravy, depending on your personal definition) and why. There were two divisions: homemade and professional and four categories: red, white, red with meat and other.

Mayor Steve DiDonato, Kelly Brown of Hammonton and Chef Kelly McClay, dean of The Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College served as the judges. They judged each entry in four areas: appearance, taste, texture and consistency.

“Did it look the way you expected it to look,” said McClay. For taste she said judges were looking for entries with good flavor that weren’t too sweet or too acidic. The texture needed to be consistent. If there were chunks, ingredients should have been cut to the same size. If it was a smooth sauce, all ingredients should have been cooked down. Finally, McClay said the winning entries had the right consistency to coat pasta. They were not too thin or too thick.

“Everything was good. I’m not surprised because it’s Hammonton. I knew the competition was going to be steep,” added McClay, noting that the final scores were very close.

In the homemade red category, Ralph Capaccio of Hammonton took first place, and JoAnne Simone of Berlin took second place. Tony Marinari of Hammonton won the people’s choice award.

Capaccio entered “Ralph’s Sunday Gravy,” a recipe that he started cooking at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. “I’m really surprised I won,” he said. He learned his basic recipe from his mother, and has spent years tweaking it. He said his philosophy is “low and slow.”

Michael Pezzuto of Hammonton won first place and people’s choice in the homemade white division. The homemade with meat category went to Thomas Santone of Hammonton in first place and Franco Catania of Hammonton in second place. Catania also won people’s choice.

Santone entered “Daddy’s Favorite Gravy,” and was also shocked when he won. He said he doesn’t have an actual recipe for his sauce and has been imitating his mother’s sauce since he was a teenager.

Tony Marinari of Hammonton also won first place in the homemade other category with his seafood fra diablo, and Mary Sura of the Berlin Rotary Club won second place with “Mary’s Red Vodka Sauce.” Mike Hitman of Hammonton won people’s choice with Mike’s Vodka Sauce.

Marinari of Hammonton entered “Sunday’s Best” and Seafod Fra Diablo. “I wasn’t expecting to win. I was just looking for something to do,” he said. He spent all of Saturday preparing two entries for the competition. He even did a test run the week prior. “My daughter told me to stop overthinking it. So yesterday, I stopped thinking so hard, and just did it.”

Columbia II won first place, and Mario’s Pizza tomato sauce won second place in the professional red division, and Conte’s Pasta won the people’s choice award.

Conte’s Pasta also won first place in the professional with meat division. Marcello’s Bolognese won second place, and Pompeii Italian Sauce won people’s choice.

The debate between sauce and gravy continued throughout the night. Dory Dickson of Hammonton, a member of the Hammonton Rotary Club, talked with guests as they casted their votes. She said many people said choosing one name would be inaccurate because they are two different things. “They told us it is sauce until you add meat. Then it becomes gravy,” said Dickson.

Dan Stelluto of Berlin grew up in Italy and felt compelled to weigh in on the debate. “I know the difference between sauce and gravy. Sauce enhances the flavor of the main meal, and gravy is the main meal,” he said.

The final tally in the Rotary’s poll was 183 for gravy and 160 for sauce.

The contest is a new event for the Hammonton Rotary Club, and proceeds benefit club outreach programs. Maribeth Capelli of Hammonton, secretary of the Rotary Club, came up with the idea. She said after seeing the success of the homemade wine festival, she believed a sauce contest would be a hit.

“Hammonton is an Italian town. A lot of people make sauce themselves from scratch. A lot of people call it gravy and a lot of people call it sauce. So, we thought we could make it really interactive and make it a battle,” said Capelli.

Pre-registration for next year’s Gravy vs. Sauce Competition is already underway. Visit www.hammontongravyvssauce.com or hammontonrotary.wordpress.com

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