Kathi Hustedt, the beautiful and charming chairwoman of the 2013 United Methodist Church Women's Strawberry Festival, can't find any Tex-Mex restaurants in Southwest Florida comparable to her hometown of Killeen, Texas.
Unless she looks in her own Boca Bay kitchen.
A Weight Watchers devotee who gives encouragement to those of us who truly need to watch our weight, Hustedt recently plattered for guests a Mexican feast consisting of cilantro lime shrimp appetizer, Mexican slow-cooked pork carnitas, warm corn salad side and watermelon, canteloupe and jicama salad crescendoed with a dessert of homemade low-fat vanilla bean frozen yogurt and the option of virgin or full-strength mojitos - all in the appropriate portions, of course.
Her biggest challenge this coming season is continuing to serve up success as chairwoman of one of the iconic Gasparilla Island events - the United Methodist Women's Strawberry Festival.
QUESTION: Do you miss Texas? Florida is so different from the Longhorn State.
ANSWER: It is very different than Texas. I think the thing I miss the most is so far I haven't found really good Mexican food and really good barbecue. So, if anyone can tell me where that is, please do. I'd be so appreciative. As long as it's Tex-Mexy: That's what to me is good Mexican. My husband - he's from Illinois - thinks good Mexican food is an oxymoron.
Kathi Hustedt at a glance
Birth date: Oct. 13, 1950
Occupation: Formerly owned an interior home design and decoration business in Philadelphia area for 20 years. Chairwoman of the United Methodist Church Women's Strawberry Festival.
Family: 27 years with two daughters
Residence: Boca Grande
Hometown: Killeen, Texas
Discovered Boca Grande: We discovered Boca Grande in January 2008 and bought in March 2008. My husband had done a little research.
Q: Are you a pepperhead? Do you like the heat?
A: I like a little bit of heat. I like jalapenos stuffed and I like jalapenos fried. I just finished a bottle of candied jalapenos I ordered online and it was fabulous. It had that heat but it was sweet like candy. It was great on nachos.
Q: Outside strawberry shortcake, what's your favorite dessert?
A: Texas sheetcake.
Q: Do you feel any pressure taking over what has been a terrifically successful event that provides funding for more than two dozen charities?
A: I do not feel pressure mainly because of the group that is involved - the United Methodist women of the Boca Grande church. They have been a force for a long time.
Q: Is there any pressure to running this high-profile event?
A: The pressure is just that we all have a great time and that we are able to benefit so many of the agencies that we provide money for every year. Praise God, any amount of fund-raising we do benefits women and children.
Q: There are so many fund-raisers on Boca Grande. How do you avoid donor fatigue?
A: That is a concern, however, this island is so gracious and giving in all regards. If there is someone on this island who needs help, the community steps in. If a group outside of this island needs help, this island steps in. We've all been blessed and all of us on Boca Grande know this and will pitch in to help.
Q: Why did you, as a relative newcomer just four years on the island, decide to take this challenging job?
A: As a member of the church it's my pleasure and my being - I do like to volunteer - and the need was there. And it's a great, fun event I helped with as co-chair last year. I've dished up strawberry shortcake, worked the crowd and helped with furniture sales. It's just a fun day.
Q: So, no concerns about this task?
A: Knock on wood, the years I've been here there has not been R-A-I-N. (Laughs).
Q: What did you learn being co-chair that maybe you didn't know going into last year?
A: Probably how each committee truly is knitted together. It's so important the individual committees are all one with the Strawberry Festival as a whole. Being a co-chair, I sort of wandered last year to see how each piece of the Strawberry Festival served the needs of so many.
Q: Anything new being done this year?
A: No. We'll rely on our traditional format with two or three silent auction items. Last year we had the one TR6 Triumph. We had three men bidding on that. It was won by a man whose wife told him he couldn't spend $10,000. He bid $9,999 and won it. And he was thrilled. (Laughs).
Q: What was your experience with island living prior to coming to Boca Grande?
A: We had lived on Bald Head Island, N.C., but it was accessible only by people ferry. Everything you did was 20 minutes back and forth on the big ferryboat. So, we loved that but we knew we really didn't want to retire there because of that issue.
Q: Is it true you had pre-determined prior to coming to Boca Grande you weren't going to move here?
A: I said we can look but I'm not signing my name to anything. We have too much stuff, ain't going to do it. So we drive to the bridges and I'm still ho-humming him after coming off U.S. 41. We go across the bridge, look at that water color and I'm going hmmm. Go across that second bridge and see the turquoise roofs with the turquoise water and it didn't take me long to fall in love as I've read in every report you've ever written. You see the water as you come across the bridge and it's seductive.
Q: Haven't you found a life far deeper than the beautiful waters surrounding Boca Grande though?
A: What you find if you bother to get involved and become a part of this community is it's way more than turquoise water and way more than beautiful beaches. It's the heart and soul of the people who are here: the rounders, as we call them, and the seasonal people.
Q: Perfect world, what happens at this year's Strawberry Fest?
A: That people see that other people care and all the folks have a great time. There are smiles on faces and strawberry juice dripping down chins. There's such great fellowship among our church community and the outside community and everyone leaves there having had a really good day.