Celebrity chef to cook for spay/neuter effort

Celebrity chef Louis Petrozza IV - or Chef Lou - hopes his talents and his fame will help raise awareness about the importance of having pets spayed or neutered.

The Charlotte-based chef in 2008 finished second on "Hell's Kitchen," a reality cooking show known for the foul-mouthed, short-tempered chef Gordon Ramsey. Christina Machamer defeated Petrozza, who was then a catering director, in the show's fourth season on Fox network.

The boisterous chef promises to serve up a gourmet Italian spread as part of the Humane Society of Concord and Greater Cabarrus County's fifth annual Spayghetti Dinner Feb. 25 at Hickory Ridge High School in Harrisburg.

The menu will include two of Petrozza's homemade spaghetti sauces, salad, garlic bread and a "fun and entertaining" dessert (see Q&A below). There also will be live entertainment by Melon Belly, door prizes, raffles and an auction. One of the auction prizes is a dinner for six prepared by Petrozza. All proceeds will benefit the Cabarrus Spay/Neuter Clinic.

Judy Sims, executive director of the Humane Society, said reducing the feral animal population starts with educating the public about spaying/neutering.

"What better way to support the Cabarrus Spay/Neuter Clinic than by luring people in with great food, wonderful entertainment and opportunities to raise money for a worthy cause at the same time?" said Sims, who met Petrozza at a previous luncheon event. "I told him about the event, he was on board, and here we are. Everyone is very excited."

About the chef

Petrozza was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1960, and later moved with his family to Long Island, where he said life revolved around food, family and napping between courses prepared by his 4-foot-11-inch grandmother, "Big Grandma."

Petrozza landed his first restaurant job at 17 and graduated in 1983 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. At 28, he moved to the N.C. Outer Banks, where he operated a restaurant, three delis and a high-end catering business.

After 20 years of beach life, Petrozza moved to Charlotte, where he became a catering director.

Petrozza said everything good about himself comes from his parents - Rosemary, a "strong, intelligent woman," and Louis III, a biology teacher. Both helped nurture his love for animals.

"I remember we rescued an injured robin, nursed it back to health, and it ended up living in our yard," said Petrozza. "We always had dogs and cats growing up, and even when I became allergic to cats, I insisted on keeping them because they were part of the family."

Petrozza also has three Chihuahuas: Monkey and Super Duper are males, and Paris, affectionately known as Baby Slimy, is female.

"They all sleep on top of each other, and they love one another, but in the blink of an eye, they would trade one another's life for a piece of chicken," said Petrozza.

He also has two Argentine horned frogs, Lee and Kim, and one is an albino. But Monkey is his favorite.

"Monkey's the king," said Petrozza. "He's special because he's deaf. I travel all over with my dogs. They're my companions. But I also have two sons: Enzo is 16 and Louis V is 21."

The 51-year-old executive chef for Valley Sun, a producer of sun-dried tomatoes, also offers catering and personal chef services, as well as cooking classes and team-building demonstrations. Services cost between $25 and $100. Details: 980-202-9245.

Petrozza answered five questions for Cabarrus News about his appearance.

Q. What about the "Spayghetti" benefit dinner made you want to get involved?

"I've been doing so much stuff to help people through various fundraisers, and this is the first opportunity that came up to help animals. My puppies depend on me, and other peoples' animals depend totally on them. People need to know you can't just let them out in the wild."

Q. What exactly will you serve at the fundraiser?

"We're going to do a couple of real gourmet sauces. We're going to do a meat sauce for the carnivores out there. Then we're also going to do a vegetarian sauce with fresh basil, roasted garlic, mushrooms and plum tomatoes. It's going to be awesome.

"We're going to do some great garlic bread. And we're going to do bananas Fosters flambé over ice cream, which is wild and a lot of fun."

Q. What does it mean to you to be able to use your fame to promote causes?

"I will do this until I'm in the dirt, and life's about doing something that makes people happy. I love cooking, making friends, helping people and helping the animals that make people happy."

Q. What's your earliest memory involving cooking?

"Cooking? Grandma's house in Brooklyn and having to take naps between courses. I grew up around food. I love food, and I love people. I eat, therefore I cook.

"Cooking is such a liaison between people. If the kitchen is the gathering place, the cook is the centerpiece. When I'm in the house, I'm hanging in the kitchen."

Q. What's your best advice for people who want to develop their skills in the kitchen as a hobby or as a career?

"Wow. You know what? I want my own quote for this, but someone else said it. 'Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.' I guess it's not as romantic this way, but people should attack cooking with reckless abandon - from the heart."

(The Dalai Lama said it.)