Date: November 13, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist


+ Put a fork in it
Tickets have gone on sale for the seventh annual Forks & Corks Food & Wine Festival, which is slated to take place Jan. 24 through Jan. 27. This four-day culinary festival includes The Grand Tasting in the beautiful courtyard of the Ringling Museum. Kate Atkin, executive director of Sarasota-Manatee Originals, tells us: “Because these tickets are the most sought-after in town, we recommend that people buy their tickets early.” Last year, they sold out in a matter of hours but, being optimists, we’re hoping there are still a few available — for the whole event, itself, if not for The Grand Tasting.

The Originals have gone to great lengths to bring together a vast array of guest vintners and breweries from France, Italy, South America, New Zealand, California, Oregon and Washington. And, this year, there will be a silent auction of fine wines to benefit All Faiths Food Bank.

“Raising money for area non-profit groups is a vital element of this event,” Atkin says.
For more information, visit dineoriginal.com/forksandcorks or call 365-2800.

Editor's note: After press time, tickets to The Grand Tasting sold out in a record-breaking 8 minutes.

+ There's more to Fresh Start than meets the eye
We were having our lunch the other day at Fresh Start Café, and we started talking to Rochelle Seldin who, with Hanna Schneider and a great team of cooks and servers, runs the lovely indoor-outdoor space on South Orange Avenue. We’d seen her and waved hello in the past but we’d never had an in-depth conversation. We knew she and Hanna ran a great place for breakfast and lunch, and we felt festive and had fun when we went there. What we didn’t know was that Rochelle used to be at the famous Manhattan cabaret, Eighty-Eights. She and Karen Miller were the longest-running team in the cabaret/piano bar world — some 20 years — and, when the place closed down in 1998 (it was Halloween), they said their goodbyes with dozens of deliriously dizzy cabaret stars who’d come to pay tribute with songs and humongous bouquets of flowers.

One article said it all, “Rochelle did several solo sets, each of which was met with prolonged cheers and more than a few moist eyes. She was in sensational voice, but it was hard to hear her perform so many longtime favorites for the last time in Eighty-Eights.”

Life goes on, and Rochelle has made a “Fresh Start” and is now doing a lot of everything (except singing) at Fresh Start: cooking, busing tables, greeting customers, serving food and making sure we all feel at home. She says she misses singing, something to which I can relate. But cooking and creating home-baked pastries, heart-warming soups, spicy jalapeno chili and baked-to-order frittatas is another great way to be artistic and, who knows … maybe if we beg a little, we’ll get a song from this legendary songstress.

+ James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour is back
For the last four or five years I lived in New York City, I belonged to the James Beard Foundation and was able to visit  the famous chef’s former home — a beautiful townhouse in the Village — for luxurious lunches and dinners, complete with matching wines, made by celebrity chefs from all over the world.

Last year, the James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour came to Sarasota for the first time, was completely sold out and was such a success, it’s returning Dec. 11 with a five-course meal at Darwin’s on Fourth. Chef Darwin Santa Maria has personally selected some of his favorite internationally renowned chefs to collaborate on a Peruvian/Latin-themed meal. You’ll meet Steven Meese of PBS’ “A Chef’s Journey;” the Miami Mandarin Oriental’s Diego Oka; Anthony Lamas, who is known as “the leader of the Latin food revolution,” from Louisville’s Seviche; and Sarasota’s own Steve Phelps, who reigns at Indigenous, in Towles Court.

The tour began in 2004 as a way to bring the unique experience of dining at the historic James Beard House to cities around the country; past chefs have included Daniel Boulud, Emeril Lagasse and Jacques Pepin. Proceeds benefit the James Beard Foundation but, as you can imagine, seating is limited, so we suggest you make a reservation quickly by calling 343-2165.

+ Quick bites
Louies Modern has reopened for lunch with a new menu that sounds intricate and fun. From its grilled yellowfin tuna BLT on millet toast, to the garbanzo quinoa wrap with curry mango aioli, Louies is living up to its reputation for serving ingenious varieties for all palates — vegans, vegetarians and carnivores. Its hours are unusual, too, for a major restaurant: Louies’ Barista Bar opens every morning at 7 a.m. for breakfast bites, coffee and tea. Lunch is served in the restaurant starting at 11:30 a.m. And dinner service begins at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, Libby’s has rolled out its new winter menu, which features both small and large plates, soups, salads, desserts and all sorts of inventive drinks. Big or little, the plates are pretty inventive, too, from pigs in a pretzel blanket to several noodle dishes and my favorite salad: the iceberg wedge with prosciutto, Moody blue cheese, applewood bacon, tomato and onion frites.

Carmel Café, the romantic, cozy, fun place up on Cooper Creek Boulevard, is celebrating a whole new crop of fall flavors from a new arancini — a fried risotto with Parmesan, fontina and asiago cheeses — to specialty pastas such as pumpkin ravioli with toasted walnuts and sage cream sauce. This is the restaurant that urges you to peruse the menu and order on special iPads provided at every table. You do the drinks that way, too. It’s fun, easy and efficient, without making us feel rushed.

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