Mixing cultures on 'Redneck Vacation'


Legend holds that Queen Marie Antoinette declared “Let them eat cake” during an 18th-century French famine. Courtesy of Saturday’s appearance on Country Music Television’s smash show “My Big Redneck Vacation,” Michael Scipione and Michael Giletto could profess “Let them eat snake.”

The lifelong lovers of healthy fare enlisted the slithering reptile and other unconventional offerings to help Jared and Michelle Thomas mark their nuptials in The Hamptons, Long Island, N.Y.’s lauded location that last summer hosted the Louisiana residents and their kin.

“It was definitely a unique experience,” Scipione said Sunday from Body World Fitness, 1622 W. Passyunk Ave., the hub for Absolute Definition, his 17-year-old conditioning program, of preparing rattlesnake, alligator on a stick, skewered groundhog and pigeon for the hungry husband and wife.

A resident of the 900 block of Emily Street and an alumnus of South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., he has blended passions for fitness and food for more than 30 years, giving his training career a complement in 2010 by starting the catering service Sano. Italian for “healthy,” his brainchild specializes in healthy upscale cuisine, a seemingly apparent contrast to what filled the newlyweds’ plates.

“The Louisiana-based foods kept the participants close to their culture,” Scipione, a veteran of many culinary events, such as the Atlantic City and Philadelphia Food and Wine festivals, said of the 29-year-old network’s decision to match the grub with crawfish, fried chicken salad and scallops.

A first-year hit, “Redneck Vacation” transported a Shreveport clan to the swanky Hamptons to analyze differences between Southern citizens and their Northern neighbors. The hourlong creation makes obvious the former’s infatuation with simplicity, even if the provisions sound tough to swallow.

“Birds all cook the same,” Scipione said of placing pigeon on the menu for the 10th episode, titled “Beerly Beloved.”

As for the groundhog, he deemed it low on meat yet interesting to behold. Plump or not, the rodent drew raves, giving him an example of the country’s diverse dietary interests.

“The day after the September filming, I was in New York City for Fashion Week,” he said. “I had to adapt quickly from being around hillbillies to interacting with the elite.”

Regardless of their choices, Scipione said he found the bride, groom and their guests mellow and nice. He also could have deemed the males inventive, as he distributed drinks from a blender that relied on a Weedwacker motor.

“There were almost 12 hours of constant filming,” he said. “Nothing was scripted, so everything seemed relaxed.”

Scipione partook in the frivolity through his three-decade friendship with Giletto, which began over shared obsessions with pumping and ingesting iron.

“We reconnected three years ago, and it was as if nothing had changed,” Giletto, a Mickleton, N.J., dweller said of intensifying their promotion of physical vigor.

Formerly of the 2800 block of South Warnock Street, Giletto graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, 901 S. Broad St., and JNA Institute of Culinary Arts, 1212 S. Broad St. He claimed the American Culinary Foundation’s ’02 Chef of the Year Award and has appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” “Iron Chef America” and “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.” Executive chef at Long Branch, N.J.’s Ocean Place Resort & Spa, he used bravado to land another television assignment.

“I had heard the producers wanted a French chef,” Giletto said of approaching his July audition with levity. “I went in and told them they needed nothing but the best of South Philly.”

The Mr. America runner-up beefed up his preparatory team by adding Scipione, with whom he has often collaborated on tasks. A food fanatic since childhood, Giletto has worked often with what he termed “out-of-the-box game,” so the groundhog failed to make him blink.

“My overall goal is to make great food,” he said, “no matter how traditional or unique it may be.”

Scipione, owner of a decorated résumé that includes a turn on “The NBC 10 Local TV Chef” competition and catering duties for the ’10 area premiere of the Jennifer Lopez film “The Back-up Plan,” has enjoyed recent local success. He assisted Ippolito’s Seafood, 1300 Dickinson St., by adding 25 items to the Passyunk Square establishment’s meal options and aids nearly 100 exercise-craving clients each month. Accustomed to long-term interaction with customers who covet healthy victuals without having to sacrifice flavor, he found his one-day experience among people not as selective quite educational.

“It was a total clash with my nutritional philosophy,” Scipione said with a laugh as he recalled readying the food.

The two gurus excitedly fraternized with the other helpers and enjoyed their exchanges with the Thomas clan, whom CMT selected to occupy a $4-million house. The newlyweds’ big day also gave them a moment to shine.

“They loved the food,” Scipione said of the choices, noting only compressed octopus, a tryout dish, failed to sate them.

They also heartily imbibed the liquor, with beer and assorted shots gratifying their gullets. A particularly humorous aspect occurred when Scipione received a tutorial on how to use the makeshift blender.

“Hysterical,” he said of the lesson, which kept spirits high as the attendees, whose revelry transpired on a converted tennis court, partied country style.

“It wasn’t crabs and spaghetti, but it was a delight to help them,” Giletto said in reference to two foods that helped his culinary mentality to thrive.

The activity kept the friends from being crabby, as the show, set to air its season finale Saturday and to resume in June, filled the day and night with laughter and high jinks, including calling on a two-story beer bong to induce altered gaits.

“They are used to hunting and fishing, so it was good to give them a break and let them enjoy the grub,” Scipione said.

He and Giletto, who earlier this month worked the Philadelphia International Flower Show, are months removed from filming but with only five days elapsing since the airing, they have begun to think more of their individual aims.

“People need healthy options constantly,” Scipione, whose honey jalapeno pulled chicken soft taco has won acclaim, said.

Having sought a spot on “The Next Food Network Star,” he will press forward with his national goal, as will Giletto, who would love his own show.

“‘Redneck Vacation’ showed my drive,” he said. “If it’s the right place and the right time, opportunities will come.” 

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.