Scene & Heard by Heidi Kurpiela

Scene & Heard 1.14.10

Posted January 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

by Heidi Kurpiela

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+ ‘Design Star’ Jason Champion spotted at IKEA
Sarasota interior designer Jason Champion, who enjoyed celebrity status last summer during his six-week run on HGTV’s “Design Star” competition, was spotted recently poking around the kitchen sets at IKEA, in Tampa. The lovable 33-year-old, whom “Design Star” judge Candice Olson memorably called “a big, fluffy cream puff” that she wished to carry in her lunchbox and “snack on every once in a while,” said the reality show has helped him land clients in tough economic times.

An interior designer for 15 years, Champion, who was out shopping for a client, also confessed that IKEA’s enormous selection of functional Scandinavian décor has helped make his job less stressful — that is if you don’t mind assembling everything yourself.


+ Van Wezel celebration hits the sweet spot

Singer Tony Bennett received the key to Sarasota Jan. 5 following his 13th performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Upon receiving the golden key, Bennett simply replied, “Thank you and happy new year.” The sold-out concert kicked off the Van Wezel’s 40th anniversary celebration, an affair so lavish it included a cake modeled after the performing-arts hall, a tower of purple cupcakes and a fireworks display better than most Fourth of July pyrotechnics.

Sarasota stuntman Craig Clarke, whom The Observer featured in July, was practically unrecognizable in a fire-retardant jumpsuit that revealed only the whites of his eyes, detonated the evening’s fireworks.

After the fireworks display, attendees dug into the cake. Designed by local custom cake company A Slice of Heaven, the Van Wezel replica cost more than $1,000, and, according to baker Michelle Brazen, required two shades of purple frosting and 24 hours of work. By the end of the night, everyone in attendance had purple lips –– not because of the cold, but because of cupcake frosting.


+ Riverview freshman’s rock fantasy comes true
Who needs Guitar Hero when you have a $1,300 Paul Stanley electric guitar? Riverview High School freshman Kevin Spencer, 14, was one of 800 people who entered Sarasota Guitar Co.’s December drawing for a Washburn Signature Series guitar. Spencer’s name was drawn a week before Christmas, making his holiday vacation even more festive — and the Spencer household even louder.

The guitar, named after KISS frontman Paul Stanley, did not come with face paint.

+ Plymouth Harbor lecture inspires fervent notes

The Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning (SILL) is turning retirees into college students again with its live broadcasts of global issues lectures. Plymouth Harbor resident Winnie Downes, a retired New York City executive, has no intentions of couching her curiosity Thursday mornings in favor of “The Price is Right” (see this week’s Highlights story, page 14). Downes, 74, took seven pages of notes last Thursday during United States Foreign Service Ambassador Thomas Pickering’s speech on international issues facing the Obama administration.

“I’m a dangerous, subject-matter, knowledge-based person,” said Downes.


+ Starbucks barista publishes his first novel
Not since the frappuccino has Starbucks produced something with such exciting potential. Ryan Praefke, a barista at the St. Armands Circle Starbucks since 2005, spent the holidays promoting his first novel, “Eternity’s Missing Children,” a story that starts with Jesus and the devil meeting for a cocktail in a New Orleans dive bar.

Surprisingly, Praefke, who describes his writing style as Hunter S. Thompson-meets-Jack Kerouac, did not take inspiration from actual conversations overheard at The Gator Club. A native of Milwaukee, he wrote much of the novel prior to moving to Sarasota.

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at



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