Food, flags, fun and flair – with an Italian accent

Visitors at Fashion Island on Saturday appeared to be stuck in a time warp.

Parents paused beside chic — and high-tech — strollers, taking pictures with cell phones. The scene in front of them, though, seemed straight out of medieval Europe.

Traditional Italian flag-bearers, dressed in colorful leotards and tunics, strode onto the grassy knoll outside Bloomingdale's, clutching intricately designed silk panels that fluttered atop staffs. Flanked by two similarly clad female helpers and a drummer, they executed an athletic and highly synchronized aerial ballet.

Despite the beating sun, the performers maintained their focus on the flags — their own and each other's — which they tossed and spun effortlessly, drawing applause and murmurs of approval from the audience.

At some points, Andrea Baraldi, 27, a resident of Ferrara and seven-time national flag-bearing champion of Italy, tossed five of them at once. He was 15 when he joined friends and community members to represent his section of town, reflected by the colors in his flag.

"It is fundamental that we stay connected to our history, because that's where we came from," Baraldi said through a translator. "Therefore, a display like this, which is very vivid in Italy and very important, is part and parcel of who we are."

Although not an official sport, flag-bearing is extremely competitive, noted Baraldi, who maintains an edge by training three to four hours daily, six days a week. He allows himself Sunday, when he goes to church.

The estimated 20-minute show at 1 p.m. was followed by an identical demonstration at 3 p.m. in the open-air Newport Beach retail venue. The following day, the entertainers performed their routine in the nearby Crystal Cove Shopping Center — all a prelude to the Festa dell'Autunno, hosted by the Resort at Pelican Hill from Friday through Sunday.

This is the 504-acre hotel's third annual celebration of the harvest season, which this year spotlights specialties from Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto and Romagna.

"In Italy, it's very traditional to have community events in the spring and autumn centered on enjoying art, entertainment, food, wine and good company," said Pelican Hill's managing director, Giuseppe Lama.

The weekend kicks off with a Guest Chef Wine Dinner at Andrea Ristorante, which features a five-course meal made from seasonal ingredients and paired with local wines. The dinner will be presented by Angelo Auriana, former executive chef of San Francisco's Italian restaurant Farina and Valentino in Santa Monica.

On Saturday, Pelican Hill's Via Capri will be closed to cars. The street, framed by olive trees, will be dotted by top-of-the-line Italian vehicles, grape stompers and stations catering to regional cuisines — pasta, tuna, meats and cheese are all fair play.

Between noon and 5 p.m., guests can interact with Starr Cornwall, also known as a "cheese professor," saunter over to watch plein-air painters recreating the scene and chalk artists transforming parking spaces or listen to strolling musicians. Baraldi and his counterparts will entertain twice more, alongside stilt walkers and olive pressers.

"Bringing the flavors and senses of Italy to Pelican Hill seemed like a perfect marriage with Southern California's landscape and setting, at our own Tuscan seaside village," Lama remarked.

After the outdoor Italian Street Festa winds down, guests will be ushered into a family-style dinner, titled Festa dell'Unitá, from 6 to 10 p.m. In addition to the food, they can enjoy live opera performances and dancing.

On Sunday, the resort, a kaleidoscope of Palladian architecture and ocean views, will organize a Prosecco brunch and art auction from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at which time mimosas will be teamed with live jazz while funds are raised for local art charities.

Jean-Pierre Dubray, executive chef of Pelican Hill and an outspoken advocate of using local produce, said preparations began the day after last year's festivities concluded. The process of putting together an assortment of handmade pastas and sauces is labor- and time-intensive. The five sous chefs and 50 cooks, who are staggered throughout the fair, quickly stop counting the number of hours they spend on their feet, he quipped.

"Everything is done the way I envision in my mind," said Dubray, who finds that Italian food appeals to all the senses and is enhanced by its combination of simple ingredients.

Having attracted an estimated 300 people last year, Festa dell'Autunno has "grown bigger and better," Lama said, and so, he believes, this season's turnout will not disappoint.

"Customers' expectations are very high, so we must meet them," he said.

For Dubray, the event's ever-climbing standards make the task both interesting and challenging. Looking ahead to the weekend, he is excited to watch people's reactions amid what he hopes will be sunny but perfect weather.

"[On Sunday evening] we will all be tired, so we'll watch some football," he said with a chuckle.

If You Go

What: Festa dell'Autunno

Where: The Resort at Pelican Hill, 22701 S. Pelican Hill Road, Newport Coast

When: Guest Chef Wine Dinner at Andrea Ristorante — 6 to 10 p.m. Friday; Italian Street Festa — noon to 5 p.m. Saturday; Festa dell'Unitá — 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday; Prosecco Brunch & Art Auction — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Guest Chef Wine Dinner at Andrea Ristorante — $175 per adult, excluding tax and gratuity; Italian Street Festa — $115 per adult, or $45 per child under 12, excluding tax and gratuity; Festa dell'Unitá — $150 per adult, excluding tax and gratuity; Prosecco Brunch & Art Auction — $100 per adult, or $40 per child under 12, excluding tax and gratuity

Information: or (949) 467-6800

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