Sunday supper: Beard Foundation knights Tampa Bay as a food destination

Sunday was a landmark for the Bay area's culinary scene.

[image-2]Host chefs

Chad Johnson (Haven and Élevage, Tampa)

Courtney Orwig (Haven, Tampa)

Habteab Hamde (Bern's Steak House, Tampa)

Jonathan Atanacio (Élevage, Tampa)

Kim Yelvington (Chocolate Pi and Bern's Steak House, Tampa)

Guest chefs

Bill Dean Brown (William Dean Chocolates, Belleair Bluffs)

Bonnie Breaux (Roux, Tampa)

BT Nguyen (Restaurant BT, BT To Go and Bistro BT, Tampa)

Chris Ponte (Cafe Ponte and On Swann, Clearwater)

Christopher Artrip (The Black Pearl, Dunedin)

David Benstock (Il Ritorno, St. Petersburg)

Eric Lackey (Ulele, Tampa)

Ferrell Alvarez (Rooster & the Till, Tampa)

Greg Baker (Fodder & Shine and The Refinery, Tampa)

Jason Cline (Poké Rose, Tampa)

Jason Laukhuf (Jamison B. Breadhouse Bakes, Tampa)

Jeffrey Hileman (FarmTable Kitchen, St. Petersburg)

Marty Blitz (Mise en Place, Tampa)

Michael Buttacavoli (Cena, Tampa)

Noel Cruz (Ichicoro, Tampa)

Ricardo Castro (Piquant, Tampa)

Rob Reinsmith (Noble Crust, St. Petersburg)

Rosana Rivera (Piquant, Tampa)

Ted Dorsey (The Mill, St. Petersburg)

Tyson Grant (Parkshore Grill, St. Petersburg)

Zack Gross (Z Grille, St. Petersburg)

click to enlarge Chef Chris Ponte's roasted acorn squash with St-Germain compressed Asian pears, Calabrian peppers, dates, cider drizzle and toasted pumpkin seeds. - Jon Palmer Claridge
Jon Palmer Claridge
Chef Chris Ponte's roasted acorn squash with St-Germain compressed Asian pears, Calabrian peppers, dates, cider drizzle and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Sunday was a landmark for the Bay area's food scene.

Twenty-six all-star chefs made dinner as the James Beard Foundation (home of the food world's Oscars) joined with the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship to sponsor an unprecedented gastronomic blowout. Proceeds from the charity bash are set to support training for the next generation of culinary leaders.

"We all have big egos," chef Chad Johnson (of Haven and Élevage) confessed with a shrug to a happy crowd of gourmands, "but we truly support each other."

That's abundantly clear as the chefs huddle together, all jokes and smiles, in front of the appropriately named Haven's amazing dark spirits array lit by the ultra-violet glow of the wine cellar. Here they are in SoHo, decked out in embroidered chef's attire; some in traditional, crisp chef's whites, others opting for bad-ass blacks. Many sport creatively inked forearms that seem to be a trademark of the industry, and all were basking in adoration from 200 well-heeled foodies ranging from millennials to boomers.

click to enlarge A selection of chef Zack Gross's deviled eggs. - Jon Palmer Claridge
Jon Palmer Claridge
A selection of chef Zack Gross's deviled eggs.

James Beard was the dean of American cookbook authors. While Julia Child aimed to translate the wonders of French cuisine for American kitchens, Beard championed our own native flavors and ingredients. His historic house in New York City’s Greenwich Village serves as a “performance space” for visiting chefs, and the foundation's annual awards honored iconic SoHo-based Bern's Steak House this year for Outstanding Wine Program.

So it's no surprise that Tampa was the fourth city (after New York, Washington and Atlanta) chosen to present a Sunday Supper event benefiting the foundation. As the vaunted super moon rose over Tampa Bay on a beautiful, clear night, our 26 chefs toiled away on a kaleidoscopic array of gourmet treats in the kitchen of Haven.

Beard Foundation Vice President Kris Moon and David Laxer, Bern's president and owner, mingled among the throngs sporting sparkling glasses of Taittinger Brut Champagne or Cursed Grove sour ale. Some of the glitterati guests were dressed to the nines, others sported more casual attire. But all reveled in gourmet bliss as the friendly, crackerjack staff passed delicious hors d'oeuvres. The chefs did themselves proud; sadly, there are too many dishes to list  I could go on and on. The reception goodies featured a colorful trio of Zack Gross's signature, explosively flavored deviled eggs and BT Nguyen's lemongrass duck salad cup, shouting with flavor.

click to enlarge Our evening's setting at the Epicurean Hotel, complete with chandeliers and palm trees. - Jon Palmer Claridge
Jon Palmer Claridge
Our evening's setting at the Epicurean Hotel, complete with chandeliers and palm trees.

The crowd then shuttled aboard a trio of Jolley Trolleys to the neighboring Epicurean Hotel, where four rounds of seated courses, consisting of four to five glorious dishes, were impeccably and attentively served family-style at tables holding 12 drooling foodies.

We spent the next three hours sharing an embarrassment of riches from the region's creative culinary minds  each round paired with both a superb wine and beer selection, plus an array of breads and flavored butters. Everything from veal tongue to agnolotti, hog head to charbroiled oysters, was showcased. Imagine acorn squash sweet with compressed Asian pears, or Japanese wagyu beef short rib nestled in a crispy potato. You get the idea: a feast worthy of Henry VIII.

And then come the desserts. They included comforting bread pudding floating in sweet Buffalo Trace butterscotch, passion fruit, chamomile custard, classic Gâteau St. Honoré, and William Dean Chocolates' world-class petit fours on a dark chocolate tray.

Somewhere, Bern Laxer is smiling. The James Beard Foundation has knighted us as a culinary destination.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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