If it seems like we’ve been spending a lot of time over at The Epicurean lately… it’s because we have (we can’t help it if they have amazing events going on 24/7 and their hotel is gorgeous) We’ve done Masterchef dinners, wine tastings, pool parties and macaroon eating over at Chocolate Pi, but nothing compares to the 5 hour eating extravaganza that ensued Monday night. I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to the Friends of James Beard Foundation Benefit Dinner which included dishes from 11 of the most talented chefs from around the Tampa Bay area. I clearly was not going to miss this one.
The night started with some passed hors d’oeuvres on the garden terrace. A beautiful tent with string lights, comfy lounge areas and of course a bar, greeted us as the dinner guests filed in. We were treated to 6 different tastings from 3 different chefs while sipping on Collet Brut (please keep in mind this was just the beginning of the night) One thing I love about The Epicurean is how great their staff is. Everyone is so friendly, super accommodating and never lets your glass get empty; which is certainly a good thing in my book! (Shout out to Gavin & Roger- you guys are the best!) After about an hour or so, it was time to head inside.
We were escorted into the Grand Cru ballroom where tables had been set up and decorated beautifully by MMD Events. Many people (including myself) stopped to take pictures of their table before sitting down. I took my seat over at Table 11 and mentally prepared myself for the goodness that was about to come. Our table browsed over the menu and quickly picked out which ones we were excited for. I have to say, I can be a very picky eater (those of you who have dined with me know) but I am someone who is willing to try anything once. Therefore, the red wine braised beef tongue didn’t intimidate me the way it did others. Our courses were each paired with a wine and by the time we got to the end I was struggling to eat or sip another bit, but don’t worry- I got through it. There was no way I was leaving anything on my plate or in my glass. (Also, I will have you know that someone might have mentioned that Table 11 was the only table to send back completely cleared dishes…. I’ll just leave you with that)
It is so hard to choose my favorites from the night so I’ll just run through a few that stood out. As far as the hors d’oeuvres I really enjoyed the Lobster Zeppoles from Chef Michael Buttacavoli of Cena and the Smoke Chicken & Hazelnut Terrine from Chef Marty Blitz of Mise En Place. Moving onto the seated dishes (this is gonna be tough)- The Mullet Rillettes from Chef Greg Baker of The Refinery and Fodder & Shine and the Mangalista Jowl from Chef Ferrell Alvarez of Rooster and the Till. I won’t even get into dessert because let’s face it, I loved them all. Kudos to Chef Kim Yelvington of Chocolate Pi and the Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s.
It was such a great night and even better to be out supporting the James Beard Foundation and the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship. The Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship provides scholarships for students seeking careers in food service and hospitality management. It was certainly clear to see from all talent in the kitchen that only good things can come from these amazing scholarship opportunities. Congratulations to The Epicurean, Chef Chad Johnson and all the chefs that took part. My stomach thanks you!
Happy Eating! – Allison