Gasparilla Arts Month 2017: There's a new festival in town

One way to embrace the spirit of Tampa and cultures around the world? Food, of course.

click to enlarge Guests will enjoy the inaugural Gasparilla International Food Festival in an outdoor setting. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Guests will enjoy the inaugural Gasparilla International Food Festival in an outdoor setting.

One way to embrace the spirit of Tampa and cultures around the world? Food, of course.

Gasparilla International Food Festival, a new addition to the roster of events that take place during Gasparilla Arts Month, is the result of local organizers wanting to unite the community for a celebration of cuisine as well as culture.

“We wanted to bring an opportunity for residents in the area to be able to enjoy something that is different,” said City Festivals co-founder Tash Johnson, who also puts on Tampa’s Halloween party-hopping series Downtown After Dark. “This festival is supposed to bring people together from all walks of life to enjoy global affairs and global tastes.

“We thought, what better way to do that than through food?”

City Festivals expects to make the free Gasparilla International Food Festival an annual happening, and may host it throughout Tampa over the years. But Ybor City, a mighty fine location for an event that’s set to celebrate diversity, was the quintessential choice for this first year. According to Johnson, there isn’t a place that speaks to the culture and spirit of Tampa quite like Ybor.

“They really hold onto a lot of history there,” she said of the historic district, whose Centennial Park will act as the festival venue from 5 to 9 p.m. March 26.

Primarily casual, participating food vendors — with chefs dishing American-Southern, Caribbean, Asian, Mediterranean, African, Hispanic and European cuisines — include Jaffa Street, Livy O’s Catering Co., Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que, Gwennies Jamaican Jerk Chicken and East Coast Catering. In addition to the entree-style dishes for sale, which will cost anywhere between $4 and $15, desserts are also planned. As of Feb. 10, the global lineup was still populating.

For the purpose of the crowd’s “exploration,” as Johnson puts it, every culture represented at the event is featured in its own section of the park. Festgoers will peruse and discover Asian healing traditions and reflexology demos, African sculptures and art, European fashion, and Indian jewelry and henna body art alongside a medley of foods.

The spring season and outdoor setting also make the Gasparilla International Food Festival ideal for live entertainment. A reggae band and Foodie Competition eating contest are scheduled, as are DJ tunes and salsa and merengue dancing once the sun sets.

Toward the end of the night, the four-hour festival, presented by Carvana, will culminate with the Top International Chef Competition, in which a panel of judges will critique the vendor fare to determine who takes home the contest’s winning title. 

Sky’s the limit as far as crowd size goes (this is the festival’s first year, after all). But Johnson says they’re hoping the decision to not charge an entry fee will draw as many people as possible. Those who register their free ticket on EventBrite or the City Festivals website are automatically entered to win an entree from any of the chefs during the event; winners will be announced every hour.

“We want to bring in as much culture as possible,” Johnson said. “We want it to be that type of melting pot experience.” 

Gasparilla International Food Festival

Centennial Park, 1800 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa. March 26, 5-9 p.m. 813-447-8538.

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