Chef Tom Pritchard's drunken roast

The atmosphere was decidedly convivial, but too many cooks crowded the kitchen. I would've loved to have witnessed the banter/angst/frustration in the kitchen area as five to six local chefs (plus helpers) worked on each of the four courses together. Menu highlights included "Salt Rock Days" grilled king crab paired with Abadia De San Campio 2007 Albarino, Melting Pot winter spiced braised duck with wild Amarena cherries with Bodegas Julian Chivite 2006 Feudo Rosado, and wood grilled beef tenderloin chimichurri with Zonin 2006 Valpolicella Ripasso. But the forced chef love fest appeared most obviously in the Crab Trio, where two of the three inventions fell flat under the weight of too much creativity. And many guests rejected the pan roasted cobia due to its pungent fishy flavor. Ouch.


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The live auction, whose proceeds will benefit the Abilties Foundation's Veteran's retraining program (Chef Tom's son died in Iraq), raised gobs of money. $36,000 came from a juicy item that included a week's stay in Key West at Jimmy Buffet's former residence plus a deep sea fishing trip plus dinner by Chef Tom in the home. Three of these sold at $12k each. I could smell the credit cards as the wine sucked the limits off of them.


The evening's voluminous drinking morphed into the best entertainment. The video roast, a parade of appreciative and admiring local chefs and heartfelt hellos from the folks who work with Tom at his restaurants, sparked a tear in many an eye. But the live roast, on stage in front the crowded room, provided the most deliciously funny moments. Chris Sherman, who apparently saw the bottom of too many wine glasses that night, began roasting not Tom Pritchard, but Frank Delucia, the organizer of the event, or maybe it was Frank Chivas, Tom's partner. After it became clear it wasn't an error (after spitting out the name Frank about five times), the audience began to shout at the bewildered ex-food critic for the St. Pete Times. He recovered and unabashedly continued for two endless minutes. The follow up speaker to this fascinating fuck up was an old friend of Tom's and apparently a star on some TV show in the 70's. From his wheelchair, he gave a rousing drunken rendition of Sinatra's "I Did It My Way," mauling the words apparently in Chef's honor. It was painful to hear and watch. But funny as shit. Tom, seated front-and-center in an oversized Alice in Wonderland throne, bravely suppressed giggles beneath his signature ballcap.


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The event, despite its minor faults and unintentional flubs, was a great tribute to a wonderful man. On a personal note, my admiration for Chef Tom runs deep. Warm-hearted, generous and full of whacked out (yet non-fiction) stories, he's the crazy uncle everyone loves. He has lived well, denied himself nothing and given back to Tampa Bay's food community in countless ways. There's no substitute for him and there shouldn't ever be.


Read the St. Pete Times mini biography of Tom Pritchard.

On Monday night at St. Pete's Coliseum, hundreds gathered to honor Chef Tom Pritchard, local hero and executive chef at numerous restaurants including Salt Rock Grill. I've only seen "roasts" on TV, laden with celebrities embarrassing a friend. Mostly, they're small, sentimentalgatherings, but Chef Tom's Roast on Monday night extended its warm fuzzies to the entire Tampa Bay foodie community. The event honored Tom's phenomenal 30+ year career and what better way than to eat, drink and be merry like he has his whole life.

The $100 four-course wine dinner included 40 chefs stuffed into a cramped makeshift kitchen at the Coliseum, 600 attendees eating and drinking and 200+ misty-eyed industry people. I was floored that the event sold out at $100 a pop, but as many guests stated: "Hey, it's for Tom."

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