CLE ELUM - Could bagna caulda, a traditional Italian dish that is a winter favorite in the Upper County, find its way onto the menu at Suncadia Resort?

Who knows?

But on Saturday, Suncadia Executive Chef Andrew Wilson witnessed its popularity firsthand when he showed up to help serve at the Third Annual Bagna Caulda Festival in Cle Elum.

Wilson, dressed in his kitchen whites and wearing a smile, was one of a small army of volunteers who turned out to help with the event. Among them: Cle Elum Roslyn School Superintendent Mark Flatau, City Planner Matt Morton and Police Chief Scott Ferguson.

Wilson looked to be having fun.

He wasn't alone.

The event drew an estimated 300 people said Patti Nicholson, one of the organizers.

Bagna caulda features meat and vegetables served up in a sauce of garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter.

This year's event took four gallons of olive oil, 12 pounds of butter, 18 heads of cabbage, 40 pounds of meat, 12 large jars of anchovies, a number of jars of garlic from Costco and 23 loaves of bread from the Cle Elum Bakery.

By the time the evening was over, only two small containers of the sauce remained.

"The first year we did it we weren't too big," Patti Nicholson said of the event. "Last year it just exploded. Three hundred is really all we have capacity for."

The gathering, held at the Cle Elum Eagles Hall, was about friends - both old and new - as well as about food.

It also was about music.

The RigaTones - accordionist Lenny Luzzi and guitarist Tom Falcone - strolled around the room serving up a musical repast that ranged from "Ce La Lune" and other traditional Italian fare to "Volare", "That's Amore" and some not-so-Italian numbers.

The two, who are from the West Side, have been playing together for 17 years at events ranging from Seattle's Fiesta Italiana to fundraisers, weddings, private parties and corporate events and they had no trouble setting toes tapping Saturday.

Thorp's Janie Larson was smiling as she sang along to "Mr. Sandman."

"This is such a fun event," said Ronald's Stephanie Stehl who was seated at the same table. "This is a wonderful community. You come here and you get this wonderful small-town feeling.

"When I was in high school in Everett my best friend was Italian. This takes me back to memories from my childhood."

Steve and Marylou Rossman of the Lake Cle Elum area were there with Rick and Mary Saucier, friends from Kent.

"It's fun - like going back in time," Mary Saucier said as the RigaTones launched into song just a few feet away.

Issaquah's Tanna Miller, whose in-laws live in the Upper County, grinned after a Rigatones' serenade.

"It's just fun," she said. "I think it's great."

And Jill Hackford, who was born and raised in the Upper County but now lives in Ellensburg, was there with her husband and a group of friends.

"This is good. It brings everyone together," she said.

Across the room, Luzzi and Falcone leaned in close to play "I Only Have Eyes For You" to 74-year-old Fern Hemmingson and Irene Jones 73.

"I guess he thought two old ladies needed a thrill," Hemmingson said, laughing.

Besides the food and song, the event also included a home-grown "Italian market" that featured various local offerings. Among them: breadsticks made by 98-year-old Verna Mattielli.

Mattielli, who will turn 99 in August, wasn't there for the event but two of her great granddaughters, Rosanna Talerico and Angelina Nicholson, were doing a steady business in grandma's breadsticks.

A raffle included getaways to Cannon Beach and Victoria B.C. as well as gift baskets.

Nicholson said the event drew people from various West Side communities as well as Yakima and Kittitas County.

She said it's proving a perfect respite for that time between full-blown winter and the arrival of spring.

"Everyone was ready to go out and just enjoy themselves and listen to the musicians," she said.

"The RigaTones are always a hit. They move around and people will ask if they know a song and people will sing along."

Even Nicholson got in on the vocal action although she had to wait until the event was nearly over.

"I'd just gotten a plate," she said. "Pretty soon, here they come. They know I'm Irish. We did some Irish number. Then some of the old numbers like 'Bill Bailey.' I harmonize with them when we sing."

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