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Culinary Triumph: The 2024 Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival Showcases Local Flavors and National Talent

The Culinary Extravaganza United Local, Regional and National Chef Personalities, Including Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine Who Hosted The First-Ever “Breaking Bread with Heroes” Celebration, Honoring Veterans and First Responders, and Chef Geoffrey Zakarian who joined in the event week, both additionally hosting culinary demos on the all new Publix LIVE Stage

The Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival concluded its second annual celebration with unparalleled success, welcoming more than 7,500 food enthusiasts and connoisseurs in what was a culinary triumph that brought together top talent and restaurants to celebrate the Tampa Bay area. This year’s festival, spanning five days from April 9 to April 13, not only solidified Tampa’s position on the national food map, but also highlighted the boundless creativity and passion within the local culinary scene with the help of national brand partners to shine a light on the area’s top talent. From the exclusive, invite-only kickoff at the Tampa Club, to the culminating “Grand Tasting” at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, each event was meticulously curated to offer an immersive and diverse gastronomic experience. This year’s event week was brought to you by exclusive wine and spirits partner Breakthru Beverage Florida, presented by GOYA Foods and the Hillsborough County Commission and hosted by Publix, who each lent their invaluable support to make this celebration a reality. 

An enhanced lineup of renowned culinary luminaries and VIP chefs collaborated on various festival events, which saw well over 50+ participating restaurants throughout the week. The impressive roster of notable figures included guest participants such as celebrity chef and guest host Chef Robert Irvine; television personality Chef Geoffrey Zakarian; Chef Brad Kilgore, named “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine and a James Beard Award-nominee; Executive Chef Fernando Desa of GOYA Foods; and James Beard award-nominee and acclaimed restaurateur, Chef Jose Mendin, who joined honorary chef host, Chef Sean Brasel of Meat Market, to host various events throughout the week. These talents joined forces with hometown chefs and masterminds from Tampa Bay and the surrounding area to deliver unforgettable experiences over the 13 events in 5 days for ticketed guests. 

The 2024 Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival consisted of five separate ticketed days of events throughout Tampa. The festivities kicked off on Tuesday, April 9, with “An Evening at The Tampa Club, a private, invite-only ticketed experience presented by Breakthru Beverage and hosted by Milagro, Woodford Reserve, Stella Artois, and Mountain Valley Water. The following evening, guests gathered at one of the city’s most exciting neighborhoods for the first-ever “Experience Water Street, where four-course pairing dinners took place at favorite dining destinations in the booming area with celebrity chef collaborations to top it off. Participating Water Street restaurants included Boulon Brasserie with Executive Chef Josue Gaston, presented by Meats by Linz and Glenfiddich with national brand ambassador, Lorne Cousin; Predalina with Executive Chef Billy Zeko presented by Hendricks Gin with national brand ambassador, Erik Andersson; Small Giant with Chef Kyle King presented by Stella Artois with master cicerone, Max Bakker, and Rooster & The Till presented by The Hess Collection, featuring Chef/Owner Ferrell Alvarez. To add to the impressive lineup, Chef Brad Kilgore helped Alvarez take things up a notch, along with Rooster & The Till’s Executive Chef Martin DeJesus. Thursday’s “Experience Hyde Park” featured four celebrated establishments guiding guests through diverse culinary exploration with multi-course dinners, a cooking class, and expert pairings. This year’s Experience Hyde Park evening highlighted Meat Market with a dynamic trio of chefs featuring celebrity chef, Chef Robert Irvine, Chef Fernando Desa of GOYA Foods, and Executive Chef and co-owner, Chef Sean Brasel, serving a 5 course dinner all presented by Gunlach Bundschu and hosted by Meats by Linz and Irvine Spirits, RO Hyde Park featuring Breakthru Beverage’s impressive Japanese Sake portfolio,  Bouzy with Executive Chef Kyle King featuring a pop up from James-Beard nominated chef, Chef Jose Mendin and one of his award winning Miami-based restaurants, Casa Isola, presented by Glenfiddich and national brand ambassador, Lorne Cousin, and, the final experience was an interactive cooking class at Sur La Table, hosted by Breakthru Beverage’s wine partners. 

The highly anticipated Irvine Spirits “Chef Showdown,” held on Friday night, launched the newest Irvine Vodka and Gin in Florida and was presented by GOYA and Mountain Valley Water. It was additionally hosted by Publix, Milagro Tequila, Rabble Wines, Official Furniture Partner Ashley, Desmesmin & Dover, Official auto partner, Cadillac, Castaway Coffee, official purveyor of the festival, Meats by Linz, and Chef Showdown media partner, Centro Tampa. Corporate battle partners included Brick Street Farms and Tartufo Prestige and desserts for the evening were presented by Bandit.

This year’s event showcased the skill and innovation of Tampa’s chefs, at Curtis Hixon Park’s Great Lawn. The evening was ablaze with competition as chefs battled in front of a live audience on the PUBLIX LIVE Culinary stage. At the same time, 2,000 guests walked around and sampled and voted on their favorites before watching them battle on the main stage for a panel of esteemed judges to weigh in on their final vote. The Publix Live Stage was filled with talent as host Java Ingram of Great Day Live on 10 Tampa Bay was joined by celebrity chef host, Chef Robert Irvine, who served as this year’s official Chef Ref for the evening and the panel of judges included Chef Sean Brasel of Meat Market, Chef Fernando Desa of GOYA, National Travel Writer, Terry Ward, Influencer Ciji Castro, James Beard Nominated Chef José Mendín of PubBelly, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen. 

The participating chefs were paired up in seven categories and each dish was better than the next. All 14 chefs gave it their all but winners emerged, each representing the pinnacle of culinary excellence in their respective fields. This year’s “Chef Showdown” champions are:

Battle Burger presented by Meats by Linz: Chef Jay Narvaez of Cru Cellars 

Battle Seafood presented by Brick Street Farms: Chef Jon Walker of The Tides Seafood Market 

Battle Fried Chicken presented by Brick Street Farms: Chef Joe Dodd of King of the Coop 

Battle Tacos presented by Brick Street Farms: Chef Christopher Yadid Garcia of Tacos Las Californias 

Battle Truffle presented by Tartufo Prestige: Chef Matthew Zappoli of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & 

Casino, Tampa 

Battle Sushi presented by Brick Street Farms: Chef David Reyes of Haiku 

Battle Pasta: Chef Tony Macaroni of DeVito’s Italian Specialties 

Congratulations to all the participating restaurants, who additionally included Chef Tyson Grant of Parkshore Grill, Chef Manuel Arevalo of Rusty Pelican, Chef Cheyanne Misurelli of Sugar Wing, Chef Dernier Buleje of The Dan at Hotel Flor, Chef Paul Morrison of Ponte, Chef Mike Morales of Sunda New Asian, and Chef Ricardo Nava. 

Earlier that day, the first “Breaking Bread with Heroes, event took place at the Tampa Museum of Art, in partnership with the Robert Irvine Foundation, hosted by Publix and Castaway Coffee; honoring veterans and first responders, reminding guests of the power of food to bring people together and give back. Chef Irvine hosted the morning and brought his friend, Chef Zakarian, on the buffet line to cook eggs and carve brisket and serve our hard working service members and first responders. The Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival aims to go beyond the plate and serve as a significant platform for community and charity bringing culinary arts and support across all local organizations. The Robert Irvine Foundation received a commendation from Commissioner Wostal and Hillsborough County for their work in supporting our military and first responders and it was a morning to share stories and for all to say thank you to those who protect our country. 

On the festival’s eagerly awaited Saturday, attendees converged at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for the “Grand Tasting” event day. The afternoon extravaganza delivered an unparalleled spread of delectable bites and invigorating drinks, courtesy of Tampa Bay’s premier dining establishments. The all new Publix Culinary Showcase Kitchen Demo Stage stood front and center, where tricks of the trade were featured throughout the day by top chefs including Chef Irvine and Chef Zakarian. Chef Irvine showcased his Florida Keys Snapper and Chef Zakarian, a Cowboy Steak, courtesy of Meats by Linz, paired with a Smoked Margarita 

The festival proudly presented an extraordinary lineup of new and returning restaurants, each bringing unique culinary offerings. Attendees enjoyed various dining experiences that catered to every palate, from local favorites like Allelo and MacDinton’s Irish Pub & Restaurant to international flavors offered by Authentic Jerk Chicken and Sushi EatStation. The event also featured Bouzy and Casa Cami gourmet dishes, representing the esteemed Cru Hospitality Group and Oxford Commons Group. Additionally, there were fresh, farm-to-table options from Brick Street Farms and The Tides Seafood Market, along with exquisite meats and grills from Meat Market and Meats by Linz. For those with a sweet tooth, decadent desserts were available from Oddfellows Ice Cream and Tanya & Matt’s Ice Creamiest.The list of this year’s participating restaurants included: 

Allelo, Authentic Jerk Chicken, Bouzy (Cru Hospitality Group), Brick Street Farms, Caddy’s, Casa Cami (Oxford Commons Group), Cru Cellars (Cru Hospitality Group), Grove Soho, Haiku, JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, Kelp Sushi Joint, King of the Coop, Lona, Mad Beach Cantina, MacDinton’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Mata’s, Meat Market, Meats by Linz, Mighty Quinns BBQ, Oddfellows Ice Cream, Palazzo Pizza, Publix, Rusty Pelican, Sculley’s Seafood, Small Giant (Cru Hospitality Group), Naked Farmer, Sushi EatStation, Tampa Burger, Tanya & Matt’s, Tartufo Prestige, The Birchwood, The Dan, The Liberty Smokehouse, The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions, Vela Italian Tavern (Cru Hospitality Group), and more. 

Paired with this impressive list of restaurants was exclusive wine and spirits provider, Breakthru Beverage, curating a variety of national brands coming together to showcase sample pairings to include:

Irvine Spirits, Rabble Wines, Milagro, Disaronno, Piattelli, Chinola, Blue Ice Vodka, Mutual Trading Company, Treasury Wine Estates, Chatham Imports, Hess Persson, Jack Daniels, Tequila Herradura, Gin Mare, Diplomatico, YaVE, Gun Bun, Kilo Kai, Papi Wines, SuperBird, El Bandido Tequila, Half Shell Vodka, Victor George, Shotty’s/ONDA, Turquoise Life, Play Hard, Sea Isla Spiked Tea, La Fete, Stella, Hendricks Gin, and Tullamore Dew. 

Guests also stayed hydrated throughout the day, with Mountain Valley Water and the official Auto Partner of the festival, Cadillac, rolling in with their latest and greatest models. In addition, the festival’s official beer, Stella Artois, provided a tasting journey of their own. Attendees had the opportunity to take on the Hot Ones Challenge while enjoying an ice-cold Stella Artois. The wing-tasting journey began at Riveters Tampa, followed by Westshore Pizza South Tampa, then Uncle Fats Tavern, and lastly, Blind Goat Tampa. The journey brought guests from mild to hot to see if they could take the heat from this spicy wings challenge. 

This eclectic mix representing the best of the city’s food and drink scene ensured a memorable journey for all attendees.

Chef Sean Brasel, Executive Chef and co-owner of Meat Market as well as honorary chef host of the week reflected on the festival’s monumental success and its significance to the Tampa culinary community: “This year’s Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival showcased the talent, dedication, and spirit that defines Tampa’s vibrant culinary scene. We are overwhelmed by the community’s and visitors’ support and enthusiasm. Seeing chefs, restaurateurs, and food lovers come together in such a dynamic way underscores the importance of this festival in celebrating and nurturing our booming culinary culture.” Valerie Roy, co-founder of the festival and Director of Marketing at CI Management, added, “This event is a testament to the passion that drives us and is a beacon for what we can achieve together in the years to come. Stay tuned, Tampa, because we have big plans for the future.  “

CI Management, the team behind some of South Florida’s leading wine and food festivals and experiences (including the immensely popular South Beach Seafood Festival hosted in October), leads the production of the Tampa happening, partnering with the best restaurants and creative kitchen talent of the Tampa Bay area to create an outstanding roster of events in support of community initiatives that engage the future leaders of the area. Beyond showcasing regional culinary skills, the festival also backs the CI Foundation’s EAT SMART initiative, a charitable 501 organization dedicated to offering nutritious meals and dietary advice to the local populace and the youth of Florida. This is achieved through collaborations with local school systems and educational non-profits within our event’s locations. Since its inception, the initiative has generated more than $1 million in support for various non-profit organizations throughout South Florida.

The Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival has set a new culinary excellence and community engagement standard. As the chapter closes on this year’s festival, festival organizers are already dreaming bigger for next year. Stay tuned for announcements and mark your calendars for another unforgettable journey through the best of Tampa Bay’s culinary world April 8-12, 2025.