ST. PETERSBURG — For decades, Tampa owned the mantle as the Bay area's primary culinary destination, due to longtime stalwarts like Bern's Steak House and the Columbia Restaurant, and newer destinations such as Cigar City Brewing and The Refinery.
This weekend, the balance tips toward St. Petersburg with the first Enjoy Arts & Tastes St. Pete food, wine and arts festival.
The three-day event harnesses the big ideas and big wallet of developer Bill Edwards, the star power of HSN chefs and the tourism moxie of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Convention & Visitors Bureau. Producing the festival is Karlitz & Company, a New York-based company that puts on such events as the New York City Wine & Food Festival and the Breeders Cup horse race.
The result is a high-end chowfest with an unusually potent first-year roster of household-name chefs that includes Todd English, Scott Conant, Masaharu Morimoto, Donatella Arpaia, Duff Goldman and Curtis Stone.
“I don't think Tampa Bay or the region has ever seen the likes of this kind of event,” says D.T. Minich, tourism director for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
Miami's Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February is the glitziest party on Florida's food calendar. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which ended its six-week run last weekend, is the largest in terms of scale. Tampa's food festivals have attempted with limited success in the past 10 years to build on food lovers' hunger for more extravagant festivals.
“Any foodie should want to attend at least the grand tasting this weekend, if not several of the other events,” Minich said. “There's been nothing like this in the region, with the caliber of chefs we have.”
Enjoy Arts & Tastes begins tonight with a “Sense Immersion Dinner” with English and artist Duncan McClellan at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and a pastry and chocolate after-party with former Food Network star Duff Goldman at the Dali Museum. Tickets to the dinner are sold out, but the Dali party are selling for $85 per ticket.
On Saturday morning, journalist Allen Salkin will moderate a panel discussion on what it's like behind the scenes of Food Network with Arpaia, Conant and Morimoto at the Mahaffey Theater, the location for demonstrations throughout that day by several chefs, including Stone, Conant, Ingrid Hoffman and Ming Tsai. Outside, on the theater's plaza, a grand tasting will showcase local restaurants, to the tune of at least $95 per ticket. Later Saturday, Hoffman hosts the “Sip, Savor & Swing” dinner at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort for $225 per person.
On Sunday, several local chefs battle with hamburgers during the “Battle at the 'Burg” inside The Club at Treasure Island. Zach Gross, chef and owner of Z Grille in downtown St. Petersburg, will be cooking a Greek lamb burger with cucumber, jalapeno goat cheese and a three-chile sauce.
Gross said Thursday he is excited about the weekend's events. The ticket price is $85 per person.
“Scott Conant is a pretty talented dude,” Gross said. “Morimoto is a talented cat. With what's happening in St. Pete at BayWalk, it will be interesting to see what effect this has.”