Ryan's Rockin' Holiday Party
The first hint that you arrived at a rockin' holiday party was the $200,000 snow white "sleigh" piled high with gifts parked outside Ceviche restaurant. Upon closer inspection, that sleigh was a 2011 Bentley Continental GTC Speed Edition.
The second clue was a warm hug from Ryan Nece, charming 200-plus guests at his foundation's annual benefit Dec. 9. Huddling with the former Tampa Bay Buc linebacker were former Bucs Shelton Quarles, Anthony Becht, Corey Ivy, Antoine Cash and Dwight Smith. A stroll through the bar turned up Bucs owner Bryan Glazer and linebacker Adam Hayward.
"Naughty or nice?" queried Santa, a.k.a. Jim Henning, when guests — none football players — clamored for photos with the big guy.
Admission was $25 cash or gift cards to Walmart, Best Buy or Target. Nece racked up more than $6,000 cash and almost $2,000 in cards. For the past five years, Nece has sponsored a Good Samaritan holiday celebration for youth identified by the county Department of Children's Services. Boys play laser tag with Nece at Qzar; girls get makeovers at Neiman Marcus.
Opera Tampa holiday brunch
Opera benefactors Zena Lansky and Warren Rodgers turned their annual holiday brunch into a private concert at the Belleair Country Club. They were eager to share their passion for opera with friends and colleagues from Morton Plant Hospital, and Tampa aficionados Judy and Ernie Lisi, Troy and Anne Atlas, Wit Ostrenko and Stan and Lea Davis. Lea Davis is chairing the Feb. 24 opera gala honoring Plácido Domingo and sponsored by Lansky at the Straz Center.
"Two of the three greatest opera singers in the world will be there, Plácido and Sherrill Milnes,'' said Rodgers, calling the gala "the cultural event of the year."
In a cozy room overlooking the golf course, the hosts introduced renowned baritone Milnes, Opera Tampa artistic adviser, and the associate director, his versatile wife, Maria Zouves. They brought on future stars Ashley Dannewitz, Courtney McKeown, Ian O'Brien and Alex Tyink.
"They sang gorgeous opera and some Broadway tunes appropriate for their voices," gushed board member Stephanie Amberg.
Zouves also sang Ave Maria, dedicated to her late mother and to Rachel Lisi, who recently passed away.
Chefs and caterers get to enjoy the fruits of their labors, too, right? Local members of the National Association of Catering Executives threw themselves a holiday bash that impressed even themselves. On Dec. 14, event planners, florists, DJs and photographers were the guests at TPepin's Hospitality Centre, dubbed Club NACE for the night. Marvelous Mark's band rocked, and Warren Dietel's Puff 'n Stuff Catering crew produced a witty presentation.
The lively show kitchen turned out lamb, halibut and pumpkin ravioli, and a revolving bookcase displayed lobster beignets, and jumbo crab mango melange. Books between the bites identified the hors d'oeuvres on each shelf.
Drinks started with blueberry mojitos and hot ritas and ended with espresso shots.
Proceeds from Club NACE's $50 tickets go to the chapter's scholarship fund, said vice president Sandy Rule.
Help with Thanksmas
Wearing a Tampa Bay Rays Santa hat and a jolly apron, bespectacled Rays manager Joe Maddon worked the 717 South crowd Dec. 9, soaking up compliments on the spaghetti, meatballs, sausage and pierogies he made from recipes borrowed from his mother and his aunts Flo and Fray.
"Joe was in the kitchen cooking by 8 a.m.," said 717 South owner Michael Stewart, who invited the guest chef in celebration of Thanksmas. For the fifth year, Maddon has cooked and served dinner at homeless shelters between Thanksgiving and Christmas, hence the name Thanksmas.
The guest bartenders Maddon brought along, including Rays players Matt Garza and James Shields and coaches Don Zimmer, Tom Foley, Jim Hickey and Derek Shelton, hustled to serve the packed house.
"All their tips were used to buy hoodies to give out at the four shelters where Joe cooked for Thanksmas," said Stewart, who has already offered to host Maddon and team again next year.