| By Matthew Cohen
Credit photo: Calvin Rhoden

To celebrate the U.S. Open and the Taste of Tennis week in New York City, Midtown Tennis Club opened its doors for first-ever Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge.

“Taste of Tennis started 15 years ago when we took the tennis players off the court and into the kitchen. Now, we are turning the tables and taking the chefs out of the kitchen and onto the court,” said Penny Lerner, CEO at AYS Sports Marketing.

In this unique round-robin style tournament, celebrity chefs teamed up with guests of the Midtown Tennis Club of NYC to raise money for City Harvest in its continuing effort to feed the nearly two million New Yorkers facing hunger each year.

“We are very happy to be hosting this year’s event and cannot thank our sponsors enough for coming out to support such a noble cause. I hope we can keep doing it in the years to come,” said Jennifer Brown, director of the Midtown Tennis Club.

The day started with breakfast, coffee and drinks, sponsored by Ess-A-Bagel, Voss Water and La Colombe.

“Everyone out here this early without coffee and food would be really bad,” said Auriel Dicky, events associate at AYS Sports.

High-profile culinary and tennis celebrities mingled with guests before their matches as crowds gathered around interviews held by the MSG+, NESN-TV and NESN National networks. The events host, Top Chef Masters Finalist Kerry Heffernan, had this to say, “It’s great to get together outside the kitchen to compete and raise money for such a great charity. There are egos in the kitchen and egos on the court; we’ll see which wins today.”

Some of the celebrity chefs included Marc Murphy of Landmarc, along with Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow of The Meatball Shop.

Midtown Tennis Club is home to four Har-Tru indoor courts and four clay (rooftop) courts. The four rooftop courts have breathtaking views of the Empire State Building.

“For me, there’s nothing better than serving up a ball and seeing the Empire State Building in the background,” said Midtown Tennis Assistant Manager Liza Davis.

The doubles draw consisted of 32 players with rotating partners, with the top two overall scorers advancing to the finals. Paul Rose, a tennis professional at Midtown Tennis Club, said his “favorite” to win the event was Christian Pappanicholas, founder of the restaurant, The Cannibal in New York City, who he has hit with in the past and has seen play throughout the years. After three rounds of round-robin doubles play came a plot twist–celebrity chef David Sharp and Christian Pappanicholas were tied. A coin flip landed in favor of Pappanicholas who advanced to the finals, a singles match vs. Eric Gabrynowicz, executive chef and partner of Restaurant North. Paul’s prediction came full circle with Pappanicholas coming out on top in a 4-0 victory.

“I’m still chasing the dream of trying to get to the U.S. Open, but I don’t think I’m getting any closer. There’s such an epic array of talent in this event, to win is pretty awesome,” said a humble Pappanicholas, who won a custom sport jacket made by sponsor Berel & Company, along with a bottle of Bulldog Gin.

The event was followed by the annual Taste of Tennis Gala at the W Hotel in New York City, with 700 guests including pro tennis players like Venus and Serena Williams; guest DJ for the night, Victoria Azarenka, 25-plus celebrity chefs, and celebrities from across the entertainment industry.

Credit all photos to Calvin Rhoden