FOOD FIGHT: Top Chefs
Now in its fifth year, Top Chefs showcases entrees created by students who have received training as part of the PARC Culinary Arts Program in collaboration with Tampa Bay restaurants. Featured dishes driving this tasting-meets-throwdown include three-cheese lobster mac with braised callaloo greens and smoked bacon (Callaloo), beet-cured salmon with charcoal brioche, preserved lemon and horseradish powder (Marchand's Bar and Grill) and jumbo scallops with Gouda grits, pork belly Brussels sprouts, corn puree and beet salad (the Library). But drinks and desserts from other local spots are also on hand. Vote for the entree you enjoyed most in categories like Fan Favorite, Best Flavor, Best All Around and Best Presentation. Benefits PARC's Culinary Arts Program. $100, VIP $150. 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Morean Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg. parc-fl.org/topchefs.
SNACK AND SIP: Taste of NACE
An annual fundraiser presented by the National Association of Caterers and Events' Tampa chapter, Taste of NACE samples beverages and bites from event planners and caterers all over the region. You're invited to dig in while enjoying entertainment and a silent auction, the proceeds of which go to the Pat Dicianno Memorial Scholarship Fund for catering and event professionals. $50 and up. 6-9 p.m. Saturday. Kapok Special Events Pavilion, 923 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. tampabaynace.com.
WHISK TAKERS: Taste of Design
Teams of eight amateur cooks led by four local chefs, including Greg Baker, formerly of the Refinery, and King of the Coop's Joe Dodd, battle it out at the Taste of Design. And you can join them: Just pay the entry fee to work alongside the chefs, using state-of-the-art kitchen tools to prepare a tasting menu with sommelier-curated wine pairings. Keeping pace with the other gastronomic clashes around town, the Taste of Design asks spectators to help crown their favorite team as the winner by popular vote during the 5:30 p.m. reception. Benefits Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. $75, $500 per eight-person team; $40 reception. 3-8 p.m. Thursday. Caspers Food Service Design, 6845 Maple Lane, Tampa. tbfad.com/tod.
LAST ROUND: Epic Chef Showdown
The fifth year for this seven-week culinary competition pitting eight Tampa Bay restaurants against one another comes to a close. Parkshore Grill chef Alan Garcia and Mise en Place chef Wayne Mather face off at the Epic Chef Showdown finale, using a mystery box of ingredients to whip up two dishes each for a panel of judges. Don't have a ticket? Catch the action on big-screen TVs in the lobby area. Benefits Feeding Tampa Bay. $350 per couple. 6:30-9 p.m. Monday. Epicurean Hotel, 1207 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 999-8702. epiccheftampabay.com.
BEST BETS: What to eat at Busch Gardens Bier Fest
We checked out the first weekend of Bier Fest at Busch Gardens, a miniature version of the park's spring Food and Wine Festival. Here are some things to look for in "culinary cabins" set up around the theme park. Of the 15 cabins in the Gwazi Park area, six are stocked with food complementing beer, cider, summer wine or bourbon. Individual beers are $8.99 for a domestic and $9.49 for craft. A $29.99 lanyard for five items or a $49.99 lanyard for 10 might be a more economical way to sample. If you tire of the suds, adult ice cream floats pair beer or sparkling rose with ice cream. We tried the hard coffee float of Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee and chocolate soft-serve. They pair well, maybe because the PBR is already creamy. However, $9.99 for about 6 ounces of boozy java and ice cream seemed pricey.
Over at the Tacos on Tap kiosk, the smoked brisket taco outshone the jerk chicken taco in both spice and flavor, both $6.99. The brisket came with citrus chipotle barbecue sauce and crispy jalapeno strips that were a revelation, giving the soft taco a nice kick and also some crunch.
The Impossible Burger melt was a favorite, providing even more flavor than the short rib and Brie melt, each $7.99. The former may be meatless, but it's still a calorie bomb served on buttered Texas toast with provolone and slightly sweet red onion jam.
For dessert, the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival mainstay griddled cheesecake melt returns at $5.99, with a swirl of guava sauce instead of the traditional raspberry. We opted for the $5.99 flourless chocolate torte served with Guinness-infused whipped cream so rich and dense it's easily shared by two.
Bier Fest is included with park admission, which starts at $84.99. Food and drink additional. The celebration runs weekends through Sept. 8, including Labor Day. (813) 884-4386. buschgardens.com. —Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer
FORK YEAH: Meet the Chefs Dinner
The Meet the Chefs Dinner introduces you to the team behind FarmTable Cucina's seasonally inspired cuisine. In the main dining room of the second-floor Locale Market eatery, chow down on a five-course menu from executive chef James Kirby, executive sous chef Mathew Rembes, sous chef Eric Stealey and pastry chef Amanda Santos, who discuss their respective plates. "We're passionate about creating unique culinary experiences for our guests, and we love any opportunity to step into the dining room to meet them and to share the inspiration behind each of our dishes," Kirby said in a statement. $79, wine pairing add-on is an extra $35. 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29. Locale Market, 179 Second Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 523-6297. farmtable.tocktix.com.