The first time I sat down with Christal Kotchman-Giardina, she had just hosted a sold-out dinner featuring Ferrell Alvarez, owner of lauded Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster and the Till. The event was at Armature Works, one of Tampa Bay’s hip new food halls.
It was the first Chef Demo Dinner for Kotchman-Giardina’s newish concept, Toast on the Town, which she launched in the summer of 2017. It’s a local dinner series she started after years of running an event planning company. (She founded CKG & Associates.)
The idea is to connect chefs with their Tampa Bay diners in more intimate, unique settings. And the concept has been popular, with events often reaching capacity. (They keep things around 40 to 50 people to achieve that intimacy.) Buy a ticket, and the evening’s meal and drinks are provided. Chef Demo Dinners and “Pop-Up Dinners” are hosted at neutral locations, not restaurants but more casual spaces that showcase the Tampa Bay community, like George Steinbrenner Field and the Tampa Firefighters Museum.
Community is top of mind for Kotchman-Giardina, 32, a Pinellas County native who has seen the Tampa Bay area grow into a culinary destination. Eating together around a table seemed like the perfect way to foster a sense of togetherness.
Since that first dinner, there has been an all-vegan demo dinner, led by Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery’s Timothy Fedorko, at which guests scarfed down plant-based dishes and poached pears for dessert. At a popup dinner in Channelside, the theme was Roses and Rose Ladies Night, and the event featured a long table strewn with gorgeous flowers and an all-female lineup of chefs and beverage providers. The events were totally different, yet both contained dozens of enthusiastic diners (many of them regulars) eager to see live chef demonstrations or meet fellow local foodies.
Toast on the Town has recently introduced cooking classes led by chefs, another layer of interaction between guests and experts. Michael Buttacavoli from Channelside-based restaurant Cena (another of our food critic’s top restaurants of the year) led an Italian-themed cooking class in September. This month, chefs Rosana Rivera and Ricardo Castro, who used to work at Piquant and now run new Hall on Franklin outpost XILO, are hosting a “Tarts 101” baking class.
There’s more growth ahead for the company in 2019. Toast on the Town recently launched VIP memberships that include tickets to their events and local perks like restaurant discounts. And dinners with chefs Gui Alinat and Cody Tiner from CW’s Gin Joint, and Nathan Hardin from Armature Works’ Steelbach, are on the horizon. My selfish plea? More dinners in Pinellas County.
For more information about Toast on the Town, go to toastonthetown.com. The next event, Tarts 101, takes place Feb. 21 at the Rialto Theatre in Tampa.
Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected] Follow @mstark17.