This past Saturday evening I attended the 21st annual Chef’s Gala for the Heart of Florida United Way. The event had 1,100 attendees and took place at the Epcot World Showplace. It raised a record $296,000 for the United Way and all the many programs it supports in Central Florida. It had lots of people, great food and so much more.I rode to the event with Rebekah Brown from Winter Park’s own The Marketing Square. As much as I enjoy big events, I loathe driving to and from them, so if I did not say it enough on Saturday night, THANK YOU, Rebekah! We got to the event, parked in the far eastern portion of the Epcot lot, boarded a bus to go into the park. Our bus was to be “volunteers”, but included bloggers / media types like ourselves and others who should get there early. I was sitting on the bus as Rebekah talked on her phone and greeted a few of our fellow coach companions, complimenting one woman’s dark black with blue sequin-paisley jacket and then her husband’s colorfully cubist, Missoni-esque tie. Once we were at the facility, entered via the red carpet I began checking out the two long tables presenting 190 silent auction items donated for the event and saw LOTS of names I know from Winter Park and will detail below. But I was a bit amused as Lisa Junkerman, the Vice President of Marketing & Communications, came around and said she wanted to introduce me to the President of their organization, Robert (Bob) Brown. I walked over as he turned around and it was the guy with the great tie. He said he already knew me and I remarked again on his great tie. It’s a little thing, but I think provided great synchronicity for the rest of the night, as I interacted with Bob and his wife, Mary, others I’d met during casual conversations early on. It’s important to have people to joke around with no matter the event. Laughter, raving about amazing food, most else is best in groups. A few observations about the early evening . . . . First, when you see the employee lot behind the scenes you understand – if you didn’t know already – just how many people Locally Mickey Mouse employs. Living in Winter Park, it’s easy to forget Mickey and Minnie, their neighbors Hulk and Spiderman, Shamu and all the rest are down there. Even as I will surely lull back into that state of obliviousness, I will surely also be thankful they ARE there, not just for the thousands of jobs they provide, or the fun for us and our visitors, but also the good works and amazing contributions they make to groups like the Heart of Florida United Way. Second, well, the backs of those “country” buildings – whether Scandinavian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, etc. – all look just like other buildings from behind. Guess I knew that. But it looks weird seeing them from that angle! Attending the Chef’s Gala, with so many well-known Central Florida and “attractions” restaurants, I have to say I felt a bit like I was attending an away game supporting the home team, as two Winter Park establishments – Cask & Larder and 4Rivers Smokehouse Sweet Shop – were there. And, I have to say, the home teams were the stars. Honestly, I think James Petrakis and his Cask & Larder offerings had the longest lines all night, until maybe 45 minutes to an hour before the end. And then, the baton was handed to 4Rivers Smokehouse Sweet Shop. The line for the Sweet Shop then circled around, overtook a few other lines nearby. Their offerings were incredible. The country ham biscuits from Cask & Larder would have been familiar to their fans, and one of my absolute favorites, but they also served grits – I began describing as molten cornbread – with Florida-sourced shrimp sausage and just a bit of fried chicken skin on top. These guys worked non-stop all night trying to keep up, ran out of the biscuits and then put even more effort into the grits and shrimp sausage. They were amazing from start to finish. AMAZING. Then, there was the Sweet Shop. While they had a number of ice creams to select from, I went for the salted Bourbon caramel ice cream and received a nod of approval from the young ladies serving it. They also suggested a pecan covering. The taste was stunningly intense, delicious. The home team ROCKED on Saturday night. I couldn’t help but feel just a bit like a proud parent. Yeah, like I had anything to do with it! But proud I was, of these two amazing restaurants, that they were there representing the community I LUV. This is completely and totally unrelated, but I have to say I LUVed seeing guys there on Saturday in seersucker suits with bow ties. One guy finished that off with white bucks! Classic is classic for a reason and it is back in style. I hope he didn’t get any food on it.
Again, the event much exceeded its goals for the evening, bringing in almost $300k in one evening for Heart of Florida United Way’s support of Local food and shelter programs, and more. Many Local businesses contributed to that with donations and I’d like to acknowledge them here, will have many (most?) in the accompanying photography gallery.
Those businesses are:
310 Park South
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
Alkemy Skincare and Day Spa
Blu on the Avenue
Coralia Leets Jewelery Design
Elite Strength & Fitness
Euro Day Spa & Salon
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Harry P. Leu Gardens
LaBella Intimates on Park Avenue
mi Tomatina – Paella Bar
Morse Museum of American Art
Ranger’s Pet Outpost and Retreat
Scott Laurent Collection
The Ravenous Pig
The Tap Room at Dubsdread
Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen
Tuni’s of Winter Park
Winter Park Laser & Anti-Aging Center
AND . . . not in the silent auction, but in our “swag bag” as we left, a bag of chocolate covered popcorn from Peterbrooke of Winter Park!
The whole evening was so well done, so much fun. I’d like to again THANK Lisa Junkerman for the kind invitation. Those plates which allow you to sit you wine glass easily on the side are genius and I want one to take to any and every party I ever attend! And, I’d like to thank the anonymous gentleman in the black and white hounds tooth sports jacket who was casually walking in front of me with his plate and wine glass, but when the music and the superb vocals of performer DaVonda Simmons struck him, he proceeded to do a series of three twirls, dancing along to the next station. It was a good time all around, yet he may be the surprising random memory which lingers, reminds me of just that. THANKS to everyone who worked so hard to put the evening together, for all those who helped to raise so much for Local causes. It was a true privilege to attend, my honor to write about. Earlier on Saturday there were many events in Winter Park, including the Cocina 214 Running of the Chihuahuas, which went on despite some light morning rain. My money was on Foster, who apparently sort of phoned it in. Little Paxton, a long-haired Chihuahua, was the winner, after 10 heats with 60 participants. No question this is going to be a yearly thing now, fun for adults, kids and, yes, pups alike! And owner Lambrine Macejewski, catering coordinator Madeleine Glascock and the whole staff did such a GREAT job! Later on Saturday I briefly attended the Derby on Park event at the Winter Park Country Club, organized by Anthony Dinova’s Winter Park Annual. Big, fun and colorful hats were plentiful, as well as some great bow ties. There were two terrific bands, LUVly art from Jessilyn Park and food from both Fleming’s Steakhouse and John & Shirley’s Catering. Winter Park Annual has a barbecue event coming up this summer I anxiously anticipate. YES, you CAN do events during the SUMMER! Thank you, Anthony, for acknowledging that and doing so. And, hey, you’ve got to admit Anthony has the luck of the Irish since the rain we’d dealt with for days ended just a few hours before his event. Great job, Anthony! This weekend was packed with events, and Sunday’s Cinco de Mayo at Cocina 214 was a blast. It wasn’t just the loud music and margaritas, corn hole-tossing and inflatable Corona bottles hanging overhead. It was also the characters. What is a party if not at least in part all about people watching? I met Brad and his friend from College Park. Brad danced all around while I was there, was obviously having a great time and promoted it in others, as he kept me smiling. The margaritas were yummy . . . and contributed to my very slow Seis-o de Mayo. Aye yi yi, oy! Again, I had fun. Maybe more than was required. A few quick shot outs in closing. We had such a terrific dinner at Pannullo’s on Park Avenue on Friday to begin the weekend. I finally got to meet Richard Pannullo in person and I learned they just recently celebrated their 20th anniversary! A well-deserved congratulations on such a milestone. You do not last that long without doing what you do well. I commented to Richard that when I go to new Italian restaurants I always first try the spaghetti and meatballs because it’s such a simple dish, and how good it is indicates to me how good all other dishes are likely to be as well. And, well, when it’s as good as what I get at Pannullo’s, yeah, I tend to stick with it! I’m a creature of habit. Pannullo’s is a great habit to have. CONGRATS, again, Richard and crew! As I TRIED to finally finish this blog last evening I was sitting in the backroom – oyster bar – at The NEW Bistro on Park Avenue in the Hidden Garden. The time was just after five o’clock and I was feeling pretty good about FINALLY getting it done. Beware finishing up anything in a space where a networking event is about to break out. Soon I was surrounded by lots of Locals talking Local business, introducing myself and handing out cards. Erika Boesch & Shirley Stamper‘s new networking group is definitely going well! I met some very nice new people and I’ll always make time for that. One of those new people, Ana Lacey, who owns A Bella Boutique, a ladies’ upscale consignment store on 17/92, informed me of a new Black Bean Deli which will soon be opening on Colonial in the old Vegas Cuban sandwich location. Congrats to them! Their Cubans are amazing and it’s nice to know they’ll be nearby if I’m on Colonial and get that craving!
Till tomorrow – and I WILL write tomorrow, as I’m leaving stuff out here – holy bricks and Spanish moss, I LUV Winter Park!