Sarasota, Florida…(June 2008) In 1927 John and Mabel Ringling, of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey circus fame, built an Italianate palazzo in Sarasota, Florida.
Recently that luxury restored bay-side mansion was host to the Sarasota/Manatee Originals Forks & Corks festival (June 5-8th, 2008).
And it promises to not be their last.
Ringling had chosen Sarasota as the “winter home” for his circus, putting Sarasota on the cultural map
First opened in 1930, the palazzo sits amongst a 66 acre estate that includes the Ringling Musuem of Art.
Sarasota’s leading benefactors of the time, the Ringling family also established the Ringling Junior College and School of Art in 1931.
Today Sarasota continues to be a quality destination for those seeking a vacation filled with the arts – from museums to theater, the symphony to a yearly film festival, all making it the perfect location to hold a really first class food and wine festival.
Bubbles on the Bay and a beautiful Florida sunset set the evenings tone. (Photo by Janice Jurist)
Benefiting the Ringling Museum of Art and Meals on Wheel, The Sarasota/Manatee Originals Forks & Corks festival presented fifty independent restaurants for a three day gastronomic Olympics.
The event theme, Bubbles on the Bay, began with a champagne reception held on the marble patio of the Ringling home turned art museum, Cad’Zan.
The space was decorated with cascades of big plastic bubbles, claw footed tubs full of bubbles, and clear plastic blow-up chairs and sofas, that were truly like sitting on bubbles.
The actual bubbles were flowing, thanks to Moet Hennessey. As the sun went down in it’s brilliant and showoffy way I would not have been surprised to see the Doge of Venice himself, champagne in hand, followed by a lute player or two.
Instead, Chicago’s Funky Monks kept us entertained with their homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Champagne, wine, and nibbles flowed late into Friday night preparing us for a series of Saturday seminars held at the University of South Florida.
Six fascinating seminars were offered, ranging from an olive oil tasting, chefs’ demonstrations, and my personal favorite, Bell Wine Cellars wine blending class, led by the master vintner himself, Anthony Bell.
Mr. Bell, a Napa, California winemaker with personal roots amongst the vines of his families’ South African vineyard, broke us up into teams of six. We were given four perfectly drinkable Cabernet clones, two blending wines (merlot and Petit Verdot), and a calibrated beaker. We were challenged to compete with the other tables in coming up with a new Cabernet blend; the winners got a bottle of Mr. Bell’s elegant wine.
My table strove mightily. We mixed and blended ourselves into a stupor and it was FUN. I’m not sure whether we won.
Members of Sarasota/Manatee Originals provided lunch in the rotunda of the University of Southern Florida. Several restaurants offered tasting dishes of their house specialties.
My favorite was bacon-crusted scallops with locally grown corn and feta salad, followed by a steely Morgan Winery Chardonnay. Stanley Lambert brought a dessert wine called Choc a Block from his eponymous Barossa Valley, Australia vineyard. The dark chocolate Port, made using a fortified Australian Tawny wine base and seeping it with chocolate. is a great accompaniment with brownies and all things rich and velvety!
Sunday- ah Sunday- and we were back at the Ringling for the Grand Tasting. Thirty of the Originals restaurant members plus 80(!) wineries participated including Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Germany; Champagne Ruinart, France; Fairview Vineyards, South Africa; and Lakeridge Winery, Florida.
Fortunately the festival provided a list of who was serving what, so I picked out seven restaurants and ten wineries to visit.
My notes are a little food and wine stained, but it looks like I ate
crab cakes from Martinis and Tapas. Speaking with Chef Matthew Patten at MT’s I learned that while their crab cakes follow a standard recipe of jumbo lump, minimal filler and panko breadcrumbs, they also add a bit of whole grain mustard, Cajun seasoning and a Cajun inspired aioli for a bit of added spice.
Other standout dishes where the Osso Bucco with risotto goat cheese with wild berry compote from Sandbar, the Confit of duck crepes from Bijou Café and Bourbon Street jambalaya zabaglione from Siesta Key Oyster Bar.
I was stuffed and mellow and delighted to discover several must-visit restaurants in the Sarasota/Manatee area. I also discovered some AMAZING new wines.
The flavor of this years event means that those that have even the slightest interest in eating or drinking should plan to attend the 2009 Sarasota/Manatees Original Forks & Corks when it rolls back into town.
I came away hugely impressed with the Originals’ members’ enthusiasm for cooking with locally grown produce and seafood and you will too.Donne Tempo Magazine and Donne Travels welcomes new writer Janice Jurist, a self-named foodie and writer. We have Janice working on obtaining recipes from her favorite Forks n’ Corks tasting and it seems as there were many! Thank you Janice.