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Celebrity chefs, restaurateurs headed to St. Pete for November festival

There's a lot that's big about the three-day food, wine and arts festival coming to St. Petersburg in November.

First the name: St. Pete & the Bay Area Festival of Food, Wine and the Arts or, depending on where you look, Enjoy Arts and Tastes St. Pete. Definitely a mouthful.

The prices are good-sized, too, from $50 for each 45-minute celebrity chef demonstration at the Mahaffey Theater Ballroom to $225 for an event at the Palm Court Ballroom in the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort.

But also big is the list of celebrity chefs who will be downtown from the Vinoy to the Dalí Museum on Nov. 15-17. For those who don't want to pony up entry fees for the events, there will probably be a chance for celebrity sightings at downtown restaurants and bars. Our bet is on the Canopy Bar at the Birchwood on Beach Drive NE.

"I think the lineup is almost unprecedented for a first-year festival," said Herb Karlitz of Karlitz & Company, a New York event planning firm that has engineered food and wine festivals in Napa, Calif., Las Vegas, Atlantic City and New York.

"You've got an A-list group from Curtis Stone to Todd English to Scott Conant."

Indeed. The chefs, all who sell wares on HSN, one of the festival sponsors, are Top Chef and Chopped judges, Food Network hosts and successful restaurateurs on land and sea, and one is even an Iron Chef.

"We've got in excess of a seven-figure media budget to promote the event," Karlitz said. About $250,000 is grant money from BP Oil that's intended to promote Gulf of Mexico seafood. There's still some concern about the quality of the seafood since the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

HSN will promote the festival on air and then will broadcast live from some of the events.

Advertising will soon appear in the New York Times, Karlitz said, among other non-Florida outlets, in hopes of luring people from out of the area. That would likely be a goal of another sponsor, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. The third sponsor is Bill Edwards Presents.

Each of the events will be paired with an art component, such as live painting or appearances by local artists. Tampa Bay area chefs and restaurants will also be featured at the events, among them Cafe Ponte, Datz, Birch & Vine, Ocean Prime, Oxford Exchange, Parkshore Grill and many others.

William Dean Chocolates in Belleair Bluffs will take part in the Nocturnal Cravings event at the Dalí Museum hosted by Duff Goldman, the Baltimore cakemaker whose creations became famous on Food Network's Ace of Cakes. William Dean Chocolates have been used in the Hunger Game movies.

Karlitz said that ticket sales have been steady, with some events nearing capacity, including the kickoff Sense Immersion Dinner at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

"It's coming together nicely," Karlitz said. "I think we are going to have a really nice first year."