Oh, the stories. When conversations turn to Tom Pritchard, there seem to be at least a million of them.
Brad Dixon, the wine guy at Bern's Steak House in Tampa, couldn't resist telling the one about how Pritchard was in Las Vegas for Dixon's wedding a few years back and managed to make dinner arrangements at the Daniel Boulud Brasserie in the Wynn Las Vegas. Boulud is a celebrity chef, the Wynn was barely open, and Pritchard was wearing black socks, Birkenstocks and a baseball cap from Bob Lee's Tire Co. in St. Petersburg. Next thing everybody knew, developer Steve Wynn himself was in the mix, picking up the tab — wine included — for everybody.
Dixon was but one of the raconteurs onstage at Chef Tom's 1,200-degree Fahrenheit Roast in the Coliseum, where a crowd of more than 600 business executives, artists, foodies and other friends noshed the night away in a sold-out evening-long tribute to Pritchard, the executive chef at Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores, Marlin Darlin' in Belleair Bluffs, and Island Way Grill and Rumba Island Bar & Grill in Clearwater.
More than 40 of the best chefs in the Tampa Bay area prepared hors d'oeuvres and a four-course wine dinner for the crowd: Team captains were Barry Spaulding from Salt Rock; Doug Bebell, Mystic Fish; John Harris, Rusty's Bistro; Tyson Grant, Parkshore Grill; and Dan Tederous, Capital Grille.
Appetizers ranged from smoked salmon over duck and scallops to lamb; diners sat down to crabmeat, cobia, beef tenderloin, duck breast, chocolate panna cotta and chocolate cake. There were wines at the beginning and with each course: Prosecco and rosado as aperitifs: Albarino, amber red ale, Valpolicella and tawny port with the meal.
Then came the roast: Stories from Lance Rodgers, who created the art for promotional materials, the event program, T-shirts and chef's aprons; Frank Hibbard, the Clearwater mayor; Lee Neal, who owns Pic Pac Liquors in St. Petersburg; Johnny Green, a concert promoter; Chris Sherman, the Florida Trend restaurant editor and former food and wine critic for the St. Petersburg Times; Jayne Carusso, president of DynaSales; Dick Schaal, an actor; and Dixon, the sommelier at Bern's.
Former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst and radio personality Dave McKay were masters of ceremonies at the event, whose chief organizers included Pritchard's longtime business partner Frank Chivas, Abilities Foundation chief executive Frank DeLucia, Pacific Wave's Dan Smith, Jody Pritchard, Grant and Carusso.
In addition to honoring Pritchard for his culinary talents and generosity to the community, the event was a benefit for Abilities' Disabled Veterans Job Placement Program. It will be a while before the final tally is in, but DeLucia estimated that proceeds will be in the $90,000 range.
Pritchard and his guests arrived at the Coliseum in a hired car. His vintage Jeep with the stone crab cracker mounted on the rear was parked outside the venerable building, and the chef reached inside to play some music: An Electric Light Orchestra CD featuring Roll Over Beethoven and Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, played at thunderous volume.
The honoree himself was low-key, wearing a Hawaiian print shirt, shorts, socks, oxfords and a baseball cap, his trademark pocket thermometer at the ready.
"This is a touching moment for me," he told the crowd, after the onstage tributes concluded. "Thank you."