It was several years in the making, and in spite of a one-week weather delay due to the remnants of Hurricane Matthew, the city’s first Chefs Table charity event on Monday, October 10 was “fantastic,” said Scott Linde, GMA president.
The event’s net proceeds raised an estimated $8,000 for CASA, said Tom Goff, GMA member and co-owner of Pia’s Trattoria, one of the eight participating Gulfport restaurants in the event.
This money will be doubled to about $16,000 by the Sonia Raymund Foundation’s matching grant program and will be used for the charity’s new 100-bed domestic violence shelter that services southern Pinellas County, said CASA interim Executive Director Suzanne Horn.
“We are very grateful,” said Horn of the donation.
Members of the GMA will do the formal check presentation to CASA representatives in front of the Historic Gulfport Casino on Wednesday, October 26 at 6 p.m., said Goff.
A total of 204 tickets were sold and about 200 people were seated for the fine dining experience that began at 6 p.m. in the middle of Beach Boulevard South in the heart of the city’s main business district. Each restaurant decorated their own sections of one long table that featured a white linen tablecloth, black linen napkins, custom fall centerpieces and multi-course menu items showcasing the talents of each chef. In the background was the landmark Gulfport Casino with its glowing red sign.
Overcast clouds reflected the sunset and provided a postcard glow of ambiance as the streetlights began to shine and tabletop candles danced in the fading light. People frequently got up from their dinner table seats and walked around to chat with familiar faces, to meet new people and to see how other restaurants were presenting their four-course meals.
“It was delightful,” said Horn who ate at the Smokin’ J’s BBQ portion of the table. “For a first-time event, they should consider themselves an enormous success.”
GMA Vice President Daniel Hodge has been pushing to make this event happen for a few years, said Linde.
“It was a matter of priorities. You need a team to step up and volunteer to make it happen. Two work horse GMA members were behind it and deserve the lion’s share of the credit for it coming off as amazingly well as it did,” he said.
Those GMA members are Chef Pia Goff, co-owner of Pia’s Trattoria, and Chef Jill Johnson, co-owner of Mangia Gourmet, one of the participating restaurants. Linde also co-owns Mangia Gourmet. Six other restaurants participated: Backfin Blue, Boca Bay Grille, Isabelle’s at the Peninsula Inn, Neptune Grill, O’Maddy’s Bar & Grille, and Smokin’ J’s BBQ.
A ninth local restaurant, the Fish Bar and Grill, was originally scheduled to participate on October 3, but Mike Burke, the owner, could not make the rain date of October 10 because of a scheduling conflict with his son’s four-day wedding festivities in St. Augustine, said Tom Goff.
Canceling the event due to weather on the Friday before Monday, October 3 and going with the rain date was “a tough call,” said Linde. “But, in this case it was brilliant.” The weather on Monday, October 10 “was just a perfect, gorgeous night.”
For 2017, Pia Goff is looking at scheduling the event for a date in November to avoid weather problems, said Tom Goff.
Veronica Champion, new owner of Isabelle’s and the Peninsula Inn, said on the night of the event, “It’s been great. I think we’re all kind of flying blind but we’re all saying, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ It’s been a really good community event. I think all the participants will have some ideas on ways to make it a little better, a little more efficient” for next year.
Champion bought the inn in February 2016.
In preparing for the event, she said, “We have a very talented young man named Phil Rivenbark who’s our chef. He came up with the menu and we said, ‘OK, let’s run with it.’ And, here we are.”
Chef Rivenbark “knows how to cook everything properly and with great imagination,” said Lynn DiVenuti, who was seated at the Isabelle’s section of the table. DiVenuti is also a trained chef, a former fine dining restaurant owner and co-owner of Business Brainstormers, based in Gulfport.
One of the courses Rivenbark created was a unique dessert for two people to share called the “Four Indulgences.” The presentation featured four small cups containing his interpretation of pecan pie, key lime pie, creme brulee and chocolate mousse.
Dawn Fisher, former Gulfport city councilmember, who enjoyed the Mangia Gourmet’s menu, said the Chefs Table was “a wonderful gala event. I think they should have it” again.
“Gulfport is best known in this downtown area for our restaurant destinations,” said Linde. “So, to have a dining event like this just makes total sense.”
For the inaugural event, “some restaurants sold out a month in advance” while every seat sold out two weeks prior to October 3, said Tom Goff. Next year, “we anticipate more restaurants will participate and I don’t see any issue with the event serving over 300.”