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Big names, big hopes for November food festival in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — At a news conference a little light on details but soaring with excitement, a group of organizers on Friday officially launched the buzz campaign for E.A.T. St. Pete, a three-day food, wine and arts festival to be held in a variety of venues in November.

Initial plans for the Nov. 15-17 event leaked out in January but this was the first time sponsors HSN, Bill Edwards Presents and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater gathered publicly to talk about the event, which will include appearances by celebrity and local chefs.

Donatella Arpaia, a New York restaurateur and a regular Iron Chef judge; Chopped judge Scott Conant, whose Scarpetta restaurants are in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles; and South Florida's Ingrid Hoffmann, whose show Simply Delicioso airs on Food Network, joined the local organizers at the Mahaffey Theater atrium to announce the event. All three chefs have sold cookbooks, cookware or other products on HSN and are all veterans of large-scale festivals.

Among the chefs joining them in November will be Todd English, who has more than 15 restaurants nationwide, including two on Cunard cruise ships; Ming Tsai, one of the first chef-hosts on the Food Network who now has a show on Fine Living Network; Baltimore baker Duff Goldman, who came to national prominence on the Food Network's Ace of Cakes; and Iron Chefs Masaharu Morimoto.

HSN, based in St. Petersburg, will broadcast some of the events live over the weekend to its considerable 24-hour shopping audience, bringing visibility to the area. It's likely many of the events will take place at venues on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, stretching from the Dalí Museum to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, and including the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and possibly the Chihuly Collection. There will be a reception at the HSN complex, and a grand tasting on Nov. 16 at a location to be announced.

Events will be both indoors and outdoors, with some likely in the green space between the Dalí and the Mahaffey.

A $250,000 grant from BP to Visit St. Pete/Clearwater will be used to market the event, said D.T. Minich, the organization's executive director. Several speakers, among them Scott Conant, said they were looking forward to promoting Gulf of Mexico seafood. Minich says there are still some lingering doubts about its safety after the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Other than possible use of art venues, it wasn't disclosed how art will play into the event. But several speakers, among them St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, said the city wanted to capitalize on being named the nation's No. 1 arts destination for mid-size cities for three years in a row by AmericanStyle magazine.

"I don't know why no one has thought about combining food with art before," Arpaia said.

Having HSN as a sponsor will give organizers the opportunity to partner with some of the biggest culinary names in the country, many of whom hawk their wares on the network. Besides the chefs who have been announced, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Cat Cora, Curtis Stone and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, also are regulars on HSN. There has been no announcement about their involvement in the festival.

Robert Kapusta, president of E.A.T. — which stands for Enjoy Arts & Tastes — St. Pete, said he hoped the event would bring in a few thousand people and eventually rival the Food Network South Beach Food and Wine Festival. Held every February, the South Beach event is arguably the nation's most well-known culinary festival and this year drew about 60,000 people.

E.A.T. St. Pete comes on the heels of another big Florida culinary event, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, which is Sept. 27 to Nov. 11 this year.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

Big names, big hopes for November food festival in St. Petersburg 05/17/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 10:29pm]
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