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St. Petersburg celebrity chef food festival won't happen this year

Chef Scott Conant does a seafood and pasta demonstration at the Mahaffey Theater during the  St. Pete & Bay Area Festival of Food, Wine & the Arts on Saturday,11/16/2013.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Chef Scott Conant does a seafood and pasta demonstration at the Mahaffey Theater during the St. Pete & Bay Area Festival of Food, Wine & the Arts on Saturday,11/16/2013.

With more than a dozen celebrity chefs, notable regional artists and some of Tampa Bay's own gastronomic stars, last year's food and arts festival was billed as the first annual, with organizers aiming to put the area on the culinary map with a destination event in the style of the Food Network's South Beach Wine & Food Festival and the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo.

So what happened?

"From what we understand, they couldn't get the sponsorship lined up. So nothing is happening this year, with a tentative plan to do it next year, pending sponsors lining up," according to David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Last year's sponsors included HSN, Bill Edwards Presents and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater as well as culinary and media sponsors. But even if all of these sponsors re-upped for an event this year, there would be one big difference. Last year, according to Herb Karlitz of Karlitz & Company, a New York event planning firm that engineered the festival, there was "a seven-figure media budget to promote the event." Of that figure, $250,000 was grant money from BP Oil intended to promote Gulf of Mexico seafood after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Bill Edwards had no comment about the cancellation or postponement of this year's event. Downing explained that the BP money was extended for a second year, but since the second annual event is not occurring, it will be utilized for other projects. Last year's BP contribution coincided tidily with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's mission.

"We were really working on telling the culinary story of St. Pete/Clearwater and we thought this dovetailed nicely with that messaging, with the focus on fresh gulf seafood," Downing said. "We were hitching our wagon to these stars and having a culinary message that resonates. The stars didn't align this year, but it's not like there's any smoking gun; in fact the talent loved this place."

It is unclear whether last year's event attracted tourists or made money, with ticket prices ranging from $50 to more than $200. What is known is that the event drew serious national names. From four-time James Beard Award winner Todd English to bestselling author and Top Chef Masters host Curtis Stone and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, the celebs hobnobbed with more than 5,000 people at cooking demos, tastings, dinners and late-night parties.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

St. Petersburg celebrity chef food festival won't happen this year 06/30/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 10:34am]
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