Attendance records tumbled at the sixth annual Food & Wine Weekend at the Gasparilla Inn & Club.
With 101 diners this year, the 2011 mark of 82 attendees at the signature Master Chef Dinner Saturday night at the Gasparilla Inn & Club was blown away by 23 percent. The record dining soiree highlighted a briskly paced three-day weekend event where cool weather helped sharpen appetites.
Gasparilla Inn & Club General Manager Jack Damioli said the unprecedented turnout was pleasing as the increasingly sophisticated Food & Wine Weekend continues to carve a special niche in the event dining circuit.
Master Chef Peter Timmins is credited with attracting the signature talent to the Gasparilla Inn & Club Food & Wine Weekend.
"We started small six years ago and have grown into something special," Damioli said. "More than 50 rooms were reserved for this Food & Wine Weekend alone. The challenge is to keep it fresh each year. But few events like ours can say they have three master chefs participating as we do."
Damioli said the weekend has likely grown as big as it will get in order to retain its cache.
"Beyond 100 diners it starts to become a banquet," Damioli said. "True foodies want us to remain more sophisticated. And we've done that every year."
Exceptional cocktail reception
The Gasparilla Inn & Club cocktail reception is open to the public Friday while the Master Chef Dinner Saturday is reserved for inn occupants. The cocktail event has exceptional food, too. Check out what was served:
Chef John Folse: Louisiana wild mushroom and crab bisque with herb parmesan crisp (crowd favorite), pan-sauteed fillet of snapper on roasted red pepper and shrimp cream, Community Coffee and cane syrup-marinated tenderloin with triple peppercorn pinot noir demi (crowd favorite).
Chef John Johnstone: Shrimp tempura with spicy mayonnaise and seaweed salad (crowd favorite), pan-seared jumbo sea scallops with fresh stone-ground corn grits (crowd favorite) and tuna and avocado tartar with Meyer lime, cilantro and petite green salad.
Chef Luke Forzano: Ligurian-style octopus stew with capers, olives and tomatoes (crowd favorite); grilled ciabbatta bread, spicy calamari with melted scallions, tomatoes and silvered garlic; balsamic-glazed quail with Fregola Sarda risotto and fried quail egg; and pork porcetta with garlic-braised broccoli rabe and roasted fingerling potatoes
Chef Robert Plesh: Lobster burger slider with truffle-parmesan mayonnaise and smoked bacon (crowd favorite), chilled roasted fennel and tomato soup, barbecued duck and Cheddar-blue cheese sandwich, fishermen's stew with shellfish, andouille sausage and creamed corn with hush puppies.
Chef Peter Wimmler: Chocolate mousse with griottines (crowd favorite), mini-almond gateau, entremet, coffee eclairs, Paris brest, raspberry cremeux tartlets, flourless chocolate cake, fruit panna cotta, apricot mille feuille, pineapple frangipan, macaroons and chocolate hazelnut tartlets (crowd favorite).
The Master Chef's meals are planned around the wines and the talents of Chef Peter Timmin's friends and co-workers. Once the array of wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards of Napa Valley was revealed this year, Certified Master Chef Timmins went to work with the other celebrity chefs who donate time and talent.
This year, Timmins relied on colleague and certified master chef John Johnstone of Augusta National; Louisiana Chef John Folse of Home On the Range; Chef Luke Forzano of Loew's Portofino Bay in Orlando; Chef Robert Plesh of the Gasparilla Inn & Club; and Peter Wimmler, master pastry chef at the Gasparilla Inn & Club.
That much talent makes for a bit of friendly competition in the kitchen.
"Of course, yes," Forzano said when asked if the chefs compete against each other. "We all try to be the best."
The key has been Timmins and his culinary connections. Each year he brings in someone new, such as Forzano this year, and brings people back, such as crowd favorites such as Folse.
Attendees this year dined on a sumptuous six-course meal headlined by Timmin's breast of squab and fois gras pav, Forzano's butter-poached Maine lobster and an incredible dessert concoction from Wimmler.
The dinner opened with a medallion of Florida snapper followed by a citrusy ahi tuna sashima and hamachi with pickled ginger and caviar dressing. It was paired with a Brut Dargent, Cremant de Jura Rose, France NV.
Next up: Forzano's butter-poached Maine lobster, sitting amid melted fennel and leek raviolo, paired perfectly with a Pine Ridge chardonnay, Dijon Clones, Carneros from Napa Valley, 2009.
The irrepressible Timmins followed with a low-roasted squab done in a three-stage high-tech technique that left it sweet and tender along with a buttery foie gras palate treat, boudin noir and tangy orange-glazed beets. The Archery Summit Premier Cuvee from Willamette Valley, Oregon 2008, held up admirably to such a flavorful offering.
The dinner's most creative dish may, however, have come next: the roasted loin of veal with leak and bacon pudding and forest mushrooms that had our table scrambling to determine exactly what it was we were eating. The mushrooms were incredibly flavorful for such a small tidbit.
The dish was paired with two wines: a Pine Ridge Crimson Creek Merlot from Napa Valley 2008 and a Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley 2008. The competing wines on the same course were a bit confusing for some but each vintages was tasty and big, the merlot especially so.
The night closed with Master Pastry Chef Wimmler serving a superlative hazelnut gateau with Frangelico, milk chocolate mousse and praline cream. Every morsel was a sweet-tooth treasure. The wine pairing was a Domaine de Beumalric, Muscat de Beames de Venise, France 2010, but this light offering was predictably blown off the table by Wimmler's complex dessert.
The three-hour-plus meal was the culmination of a special weekend.
A welcome reception Friday at the Inn's clubhouse featured samplings of wines paired with companion dishes. Guests enjoyed Louisiana-marinated tenderloin with triple peppercorn pinot noir demiglase from Folse, shrimp tempura and pan-seared jumbo sea scallops with tuna and avocado tartare from Johnstone, octopus stew from Forzano, lobster sliders and fishermen's stew from Plesh and another ravishing dessert array from Wimmler.
Culinary events were held all day Saturday, including a Folse cooking demonstration and a wine tasting, before the Master Chef Dinner, which opened with a Pine Ridge Vineyards reception.