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Renaissance Pan

The Culinary Center of Kansas City has its own Big Night.


"To eat good food is to be close to God," says Primo, the passionate chef in Big Night. The 1996 film tells of two Italian brothers' desperate attempt to keep a "quality" Italian restaurant alive while a crummy spaghetti-and-meatball joint down the street thrives.

Kansas City diners appreciate their efforts. The Big Night dinner has been one of the most popular offerings in the Culinary Center of Kansas City's Bistro Dinners series. On January 12, the center once again serves some of the great dishes portrayed during the film's climax.

"Our dining room is set up to look exactly like the dining room in the film, right down to the long tables in white linens, the upside-down glassware, the bottled water, the same flowers and the Louis Prima music on the sound system," says Laura O'Rourke, the Center's co-owner. O'Rourke and executive chef Nancy Stark watched the film over and over to learn the dishes. They have reproduced many of them, including a white bean crostini, a basil and mint sorbet and the final cheese and biscotti course.

Diners are encouraged to bring their own Chianti, but dressing up in 1950s fashions like the film's cast members (including Stanley Tucci, Minnie Driver, Campbell Scott and Isabella Rossellini) is optional.

The big event of the Big Night dinner is the presentation of Primo's signature dish, the complicated creation of pasta, meats, eggs, cheeses and seasoned ragu baked in a pastry shell and called a timpano (named for the Sicilian dish's drum shape). The film's success has revived interest in the timpano -- also called a timballo -- which is a time-consuming but beautiful, savory pastry that has been an Italian tradition since the Renaissance.

The Big Night dinner sells out quickly, but another is scheduled for the spring. For impatient diners who want to get closer to God and make their own timpano, an excellent recipe for the dish appears at

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