If you haven’t heard, today marks the start of Dine Tampa Bay’s Restaurant Week here in the bay. They’ve been having amazing tastings and events leading up to today and we’ve been fortunate enough to be included in a lot of them. From Datz, to the Melting Pot, to the Birchwood on Tuesday for the Sip N’ Sizzle event we’ve been eating and drinking our way right through the summer. Last night was no exception as they held their signature event to help kick off the week, their “Celebri-Chef Cook-Off”.

Originally Nicholas and I were supposed to attend this event as Rob and Ryan attended last year and they got to go to the Sip N’ Sizzle on Tuesday, but things change and we like to roll with the punches. After making some new friends on Tuesday, they were convinced (although I’m sure it didn’t take much) for them to join us at the Celebri-Chef Cook-Off. Therefore, the whole NHIE crew, along with some tag-alongs headed over to the TPepin Hospitality Centre last night ready to chow down. I had been to the location previously for a few events but for many of us it was the first time. We checked in and headed inside. Can you guess where we headed next?? If you said the bar… DING DING DING! Step on down so we can tell you what you’ve won! No but seriously, Pepin Distributing was nice enough to provide beer and wine for the event so we wanted to take full advantage. While the boys opted for white wine I grabbed a Stella Artois as they were a sponsor of the event (and it’s one of my favorites). After that it was time to mix and mingle.

We chatted with a few friends and made some new ones but decided to grab some food before the competition began- it was all about food last night after all. We made our way over to the GrillSmith station. This was definitely the mother of all stations. Their plate included three different samples to wet your appetite, a cajun shrimp pasta, a chicken dish, and bruschetta. Bruschetta seems like a standard appetizer and not necessarily one you would pick to impress the masses, but this was the best I’ve ever had. Honestly. SO GOOD.

Just as our first tastings were disappearing from our plates, the local celebrity/chef pairings were appearing behind their “stations” in preparation for the night’s main event. Here’s a breakdown of these culinary tag teams:

Nick Grosenbach (Ocean Prime)/ Bill Logan (ABC Action News)

Rod Chitikov (400 Beach Seafood & Tap)/ Orlando Davis (O & The Freak Show, WILD 94.1)

Chad Johnson (Side Bern’s)/ Brendan McLoughlin (ABC Action News)

Mike Swords (Irish 31)/ Ernest Hooper (Tampa Bay Times)

Bill Phillips (PCI Bar & Grill)/ Shayann Malone (WTSP 10 News)

Jason Cline (Birch & Vine)/ Jen Holloway (MyTV Tampa Bay Channel 38)

Robert Masson (717 South)/ Gayle Guyardo (WFLA News Channel 8)

Stephan Farquhar (Bon Appetit Restaurant)/ Jen Epstein (Fox 13)

Greg Baker (The Refinery)/ Ashley Glass (ABC Action News)

Matthew Mangone (AQUA). Sean Daly (Tampa Bay Times and ABC Actions News)

Brandon Mikulich (Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar)/ Charley Belcher (Fox 13)

In a last minute change, our friend, Family Foodie (Isabel Laessig), stepped in to cook in the absence of one of the celebs. Check her out in action:



Unlike last year, the chef’s would be competing in two different heats. Each pair would be given a brown paper bag full of random mystery ingredients. Well random they were… when the emcee said for them to open the bag, it was full of items such as ground meat, rice, a mango, a Twinkie, and more. It was the team’s job to come up with a dish that would include each of them while at the same time, impressing the judges based on different categories like taste, presentation and more. While the competition was going on, we took advantage of the Crash My Event  photobooth, and had a little bit too much fun for a group of 20 year old’s playing with oversized sunglasses, wigs, and crowns. But that’s neither here nor there. Back to the event.


With round 1 winding down it was time for the judges to take their places on stage. The judges included former Top Chef contestant Jeffrey Jew, real estate mogul Jim Henning, Chris Sherman of Florida Trend and Ian Beckles from the Ron & Ian Show  on 620 WDAE. These 4 gentleman had the tough task of eating and judging these concoctions to determine who would win top honor. Round 2 was upon us and it was our turn to check out some more dishes from the local restaurants. I reluctantly made my way over to the Aqua table to try an oyster shooter. It was my first time trying an oyster shooter but dare say it won’t be my last. Yum! Next up was Irish 31 and their shrimp & grits. Delicious. Not one to stop my culinary quest it was on to the next- Bon Appetit’s mushroom ravioli. Mushrooms are one of my favorite foods so there was no going wrong with this dish. We were starting to get full so in an effort to not over indulge we divided and conquered. Ryan and Nicholas headed over the Birch & Vine table to try their braised pork on a waffle while Rob headed towards Sunset Grill at Little Harbor for their mighty impressive skewer of shrimp that stood on a pineapple. The final dishes were whiskey bread pudding and shepard’s pie from The Pub-Tampa and a delicious wing from Crabby Bill’s.


After we finished our ride on the tasting train it was time to mix and mingle again. We ran into Orlando Davis of The Freak Show and just had to get his take on the competition. Since he was in the first round we asked how he was able to mesh all the ingredients into one dish and we quickly found out why he’s so good on the radio. This dude can spin anything and make it sound good. Case in point:

NHIE: “Orlando, how did you utilize the Twinkie into your dish?”

Orlando: “Well I told the judges that the Twinkie is really like the foundation of this country and that’s why I used it as the foundation for my dish.”

NHIE: “Did you taste your dish?”

Orlando: “No way, I’ve got kids to taste my cooking!”


After a few laughs with him it was time for the competition to come to a close and the winner’s to be announced. In the end it was determined that …  the night’s top honor was awarded to FOX 13’s own Charley Belcher and Brandon Mikulich of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar for their creation. Check out the unique name they gave to the dish:

We’ve already been so fortunate to be included in so many great events that Dine Tampa Bay has put on and they’re only getting started. We are looking forward to trying out the many restaurants included in this year’s Dine Tampa Bay Restaurant Week and reporting back to you on our favorites. If you are interested in participating you can check out their website and let us know which ones you did (or didn’t enjoy)!


Keep Eating!- Allison


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