First time entrant Caramelo, owned and operated by Crystal Deosaran, nabbed the first place prize for Best Dessert for her signature take on a classic flan. "I think we might carry that flan — it's delicious," said Ho'Brah's Tommy Casatelli who tasted and loved Carmelo's coconut flan.

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE  — Perfume from ricotta fritters floated through the College of Staten Island’s Center for the Arts atrium. Rivaling that fragrance from New Dorp’s Piece-A-Cake was the scent of cayenne-laced chili and freshly fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls, creations from Baci Neri, resident cook at Castleton Corners’ Beer Garden.

“Ya gotta try the mac ‘n’ cheese balls!” enthused Pat Murphy of Beer Garden who enjoys this fundraising event each year for its good cause and for the restaurant love in the room, so to speak — a camaraderie among chefs and owners who turn out to support scholarships funded by CSI’s Alumnni Association.

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Just before guests entered the building this Sunday afternoon, West Brighton’s Ho’Brah co-owner Tommy Casatelli stopped over to the Liberty Tavern for a selfie with volunteers manning that table. At the Leo’s Deli station just across the atrium, owner Leo Balaj scooped his wife Ella into a hug as the West Brighton sandwich shop’s signature chicken soup steamed away in a kettle. Leo’s homemade soup proved most welcome on this unseasonably chilly and blustery day.

“We’ve got chili, chips and Buffalo wings,” encouraged the staff at Beer Garden. To go with that, Pat Murphy and his colleagues offered sips of brews featured the by-the-bottle at the tavern such as Abita “Bayou Bootlegger” and Bluepoint’s “Blueberry.”

Organizers of the two- hour CSI affair turned up about 200 attendees to the Willowbrook campus at $40 and $50 a guest.

Aunt Butchie’s of Brooklyn served up a massive, supple meatball that oozed fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheese upon prodding with a plastic fork. It was a stunning item by attendees’ standards based on the “wows” and “oohs” from tasters.

While Bean’s ‘n’ Leaves of West Brighton sliced up Cap’n Crunch Waffles alongside cups of hot Joe, Jimmy Max presenters dished up paper boats of crab-stuffed bread Cajun shrimp with mixed greens.

And, roving from table to table among the 40 or restaurants who turned out, were professional chefs and judges du jour Ed Canlon, John Seip and Rob Burmeister, clipboards in hand.

The celeb trio stepped up to Joe Salemini of J’s on the Bay in Rosebank as the chef plated samples of his food.

Chef Joe addressed the judges, “To start with, we have a truffled chicken salad with a truffled mayo, dried cranberries, Granny Smith apples and grapes.”

A deep-fryer kicked in for the next item offered from J’s on the Bay, “A sweet potato croquette with a maple-soy sauce reduction,” a panko-coated bite of candy-like sweetness that ultimately melted into sweet maple on the palate.

Organizers included CSI undergraduates and alum, such as Carole Gervasi and James McBratney, a recent grad of the school and owner of Jimmy Maxx in Westerleigh and Eltingville. They planned a cooking demo for 3 p.m. Presenters included “Delish Dish” caterers and Port Richmond High School culinary student chefs-in-training.

Christina Pilato, a CSI student enrolled in a journalism class, covered the event for a writing assignment. After sampling consideration, her top two dishes were Aunt Butchie’s stuffed meatball and the Richmond Valley restaurant’s accompanying “baked spaghetti.” In third place, she said: It was the creamy coconut flan from Caramelo, a catering company led by Crystal Deosararn from Mariners Harbor who specializes in the dessert.

At the end of the day, the results came in from the judges. And the winners are…

For desserts, Beans ‘n’ Leaves Cafe of West Brighton proved a favorite with freshly pressed Capt’n Crunch waffles and, subsequently, took second prize. First place in the category went to Carmelo, caterer from Mariners Harbor, for individually plated coconut flan.

In third place: Leo’s Deli of West Brighton impressed with his soup and quinoa salad.

“I used to throw most of this salad away when I started serving it because people didn’t know what what it was — keen-what?’ they’d say? Now, they ask for it,” reported Leo earlier in the afternoon.

In second place: Port Richmond High School took the prize with tiny tacos that students shuttled around the room.

“Three bean salad?” asked students from the program as they dished out portions to guests.

In first place: Ho’Brah Tacos was awarded the prize for their assortment of California-style South of the Border fare, particularly the pork breakfast tacos with pickled radishes.

“I think we might carry that flan — it’s delicious,” said Ho’Brah’s Casatelli who tasted and loved Carmelo’s coconut flan.

The Best Table award went to PepperJack Grill in Castleton Corners with its tequila cake shots and watermelon sangria decorated with a wedge of melon.

And, the overall win went to Aunt Butchie’s for its giant, cheese-filled meatball that packed a serious and delicious dose of fresh garlic.

This story by Pamela Silvestri was published by on April 3, 2016 and the Staten Island Advance on April 4, 2016, and is reprinted here with permission.