Where do the finest winemakers and chefs gather under one enormous pitched tent on a pristine beach to present amazing creations that are delicious, entertaining, and eco friendly?

Don Cesar Resort hosted the
Tampa Wine & Food Festival.

Not only that, where do celebrity chefs, new “Green” companies, local tourism and commerce businesses, and the media wine and dine with the public like rock stars to pulsating island sounds of Caribbean artists?

Where else but at the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival held recently at the historic 1928 five-star Don Cesar, a Loews Hotel.  

This famous unique “pink” hotel with an amazing history oozes luxury from its perfect beachfront setting to its impeccable touch of class attitude. Business guests and vacationers will be spoiled rotten with indulgences in every corner starting with frozen grapes delivered to their poolside lounge chairs.

From the perfect valet parking to concierge’s assistance to my entrance into the Grand Tasting Tent, everything at the Don CeSar is smooth.

The author is an
intrepid wine explorer.

The Grand Tasting Tent. I like that name! No shoes are required in sand so I place my sandals in the shoe slot and a’ grand tasting I go!   Over 400 wineries and 40 eateries with their main focus on the global trend of going green are here to fulfill the tastebud dreams of guests.

 Mendocino Wine Company, Jim Bean Global, Solaire by Robert Mondair, and Seven Daughters as well as Bern’s Steak House, Capitol Grill, and Parkshore Grill are just a few of the distinguished wine and food purveyors serving drinks and treats. They are among many who are here to give excited guests an amazing experience in culinary innovation in sustainable living and the Green Movement.

In other words and as far as my stomach is concerned, they are here to give me a taste of delicious environmentally-conscious creations which is not only great for my tasting pleasure but excellent for the planet too. Time to unleash my palate!

Sizzle! Chop! Puree! Swizzle! Splash! Blend!

Chefs serve their creations.

As the drinks and food come to life so does the intoxicating sounds of steel drums. Tropically-attired artists perform as the coconut palms sway in the Florida breeze. This is as close to the Caribbean as one can possibly get and paradise is not but one step away. 

Gleaming, peaked chefs hats bob above the crowd. Finely dressed fashionistas, casually-clad tourists, and suit and tie’ed managers mingle happily under the shade of the enormous tent. Two small children, who are oblivious to the going on’s around them,  are the only ones to remember that the floor is still a beach and continue to build their sandcastle. 

Tucson’s Southwest Grill of Clearwater, Florida offers rich, bold flavors. Tucson’s 7 Layer Dip, Fiesta Salads, Slow Cooked Baby Back Ribs, and Homemade Enchiladas are just a few of the fixin’s from the Southwest that these guys deliver.  www.TucsonsCantina.com  gives you the lowdown on more yummy dishes and their full-service customized catering.

As the music mellows out to a jazzy beat, Gulfport’s Island Flavors & Tings spices it up with exquisite food presentations so colorful that I think I’ve landed in Bora Bora. Or Barbados. Or is it Thailand? Their staff of international chefs provide delicacies for both eye and palate:  Shrimp Cigar, Rasta Pasta, Oxtails, Mango Bread, and Coconut Lobster are on the wish list that has literally come true. 

Local and celebrity chefs share culinary secrets.

Graffigna - The fruit of the vine.

All the way from breathtaking Sonoma County, Ferrari-Carano gives us tastes of fruit so fresh they seem to have been plucked this very morn. Directed by Don Carano and orchestrated under the supervision of Steve Domenichelli, Director of Vineyard Operations, intensive irrigation and nutrient regimes, trellis systems, and canopy management, rootstock and clone combination, and prune and cane selection make the finest wines on this planet. Hand sorted and whole clustered pressed,

Chardonnays Fume Blanc and Pinot Noirs blink and wink at me through my wine glasses.  So many wines, waters, and beverages and so much food yet only one me! But I have to say that my favorite drink of all uses the Asian lychee fruit. I start to wonder if they are going to tell me to go elsewhere but nope, another smile and another pour. 

I duck into “The Master of the Green” seminar. SWS Masters Sommeliers Eric Hemmer and Brian Kozial challenge my inner cork dork. Industry experts can judge a sample of wine without knowing its origin, price tag, or label. And I’m about to learn their secrets!

Let the tastebuds decide.

Glasses holding liquids of various tints and scents stand before me like pastel soldiers in a row. A plastic bucket is at hand for my testing procedure. Look. Sniff. Swirl. Spit. I’m still trying to get the process down as other guests are spilling out their guesses faster than I can spit the wine into the bucket.  

“This sample merits a cloudy-clear sediment. It has a dull brightness. Its color is a yellow gold. Using deductive tasting, there are obvious flaws. The wine must have come from the first winery in New Zealand,” one person explains. Say what? How do they get all this from one swish around the tongue? I nearly said out loud. I’m baffled.  

Another guest chimes, “the palate is, as my nose confirms, a hint of grapefruit and blackberry. Sensory analysis concludes that this is a grape blend from a warm climate in the Old World.”

The author checks bottled elixirs.

Now I’m not only bedazzled but also confuzzled. They have got to be making this stuff up or someone’s playing a joke on me. Okay where is the tutoring session for this seminar? I think to myself. 

“Greenability” with Michael Lynch. This class seems simple enough. Senior Culinary Manager for the Art Institute teaches how to tastefully go green. He educates us on the importance of consumers and food providers to encourage a self-sufficient community and to help the environment in the process. Local and seasonal foods that don’t have to travel thousands of miles save energy and leaves very little carbon imprint on the environment.

Regional foods are more economical and nutritionally complete. Easy enough and makes sense, I tell myself. 

Taste the dessert delicacies.

Fresh lobster & handmade ravioli.

Live to you from the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival, The Love Chef Francis Anthony from the “Love Chef” Reality Game Show entertains in person as he does on television. I’ve seen him on “Live with Regis & Kelly” and now the audience roars with laughter as newlyweds and not-so newlyweds discover that they hardly know each other’s food and going green knowledge.

All this gut-busting laughter is making me hungry so I must find my way back to the most scrumptuous scallops I had ever tasted. Now where is that booth again? I look for Eve, the mascot-ess of the event, who is donning her garden apparel.  

Squeezed to please.

The Grand Tasting Tent. Like I said earlier, I love that name! Ladies in wide brim hats and men in rolled-up linen pants juggle plates and glasses smile as they walk by. I have my own juggling act going on as two plates of those scallops and two glasses hang on for dear life. My Nikon gets in the way of adding a third plate and my always-willing-to-help assistant struggles with his own camera equipment and dishes. If one person brushes into either of us, the end of my electronics could lead to the end of my travel correspondent career.

Ah! But I’ve had much experience with testing food and drink. I have this down to perfection. No problemo.  Now it’s time to use my passport to fine wines by Pernod Ricard for the grand finale. The romance between Pierre-Nicolas-Marie Perrier and Rose Adele Jouet produces the elegant Champagne Perrier-Joulet.

From the Grand Cru vineyards, thirty to forty crus are used in mastering the art and magic of Champagne blending. As a painter mixes his oils, the blended masterpieces are Perrier-Jouet’s Grand Brut and Blason Rose.

Simply, simply magnificent! 

Now that I have wined, dined, and have been refined it’s time to find a place under a coconut palm to rejuvenate from all the festivities. As I slip into a slow slumber with a view of the pink birthday-cake-look-alike Don CeSar Resort, I am offered a frozen grape by a poolside attendant. Shrug. Why not? 

— Feature and most photos by Lena Hunt, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Correspondent.

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