Riccardo Manieri traveled nearly 5,000 miles from Perugia, Italy, to Aiken last week to prepare a six-course meal for the Partners in Friendship benefit at Newberry Hall on Saturday.


The 28-year-old chef grew up in Orvieto, Italy, the cultural sister city of Aiken.


The dinner is held each year to provide scholarships so that students with financial needs can take an exchange trip to visit Orvieto.


Manieri’s appearance means a lot to PIF’s culinary chairman, Rich Viviano, who describes him as an especially-talented chef.


Yet the young man doesn’t take himself too seriously – he’s not enthralled by all the chefs who appear on television and turn themselves into celebrities, he said.


“We’re just workers,” Manieri said. “We don’t create or build. A chef is just a person who cooks for people, but we just have to try to make our best.”


Patrick Carlisle, Newberry Hall’s manager, enjoyed Manieri’s youth and culinary skills.


“He’s really knowledgeable about a lot of things, even the chemistry of the food,” Carlisle said. “Derek Lycans has been here for six years, and it’s a really nice change for us and Newberry Hall and us to do extraordinary food.”


Four young people got a chance to assist with the task.


Tom Diehl, an Aiken High senior and culinary arts student, has worked at Newberry Hall for more than two years. Sheronda Woody, is a 2009 graduate of the Aiken High culinary program. She just joined the Newberry Hall staff.


A freshman in the school’s culinary course, Molly Gordon, helped out, too, along with her friend, Rebecca Shealy.


Jean Gorthy, the AHS culinary arts instructor, has called Gordon a promising student.


“It’s nice to be in a commercial kitchen,” Gordon said. “To actually help cook a meal like this is a blessing.”


Her parents, Louis and Laura Gordon, and other relatives are enthusiastic cooks. Molly started cooking family meals before she began middle school. Her most important inspiration is her great-grandmother, Margaret “Nana” Buck, who operated a restaurant in Augusta more than 50 years ago.


“I use all her recipes,” Gordon said. “All of us cook together, and it’s a bonding experience.”


Viviano had met Manieri in Italy and invited the him to visit Aiken about two years ago for a vacation. Remarkably, Manieri was just starting to cook at the time.


“It was a chance to know a lot of people from here,” he said. “They’re nice and kindly people, and it’s an honor to be here.”