Sarasota’s culinary and performing arts communities come together for the Art of Food Festival.
Dinner and a show. It’s a pairing almost as old as performing arts itself. And in Sarasota, both food and performing arts have been growing in quantity and quality — at a delicious pace.
The Junior League of Sarasota is collaborating with four Sarasota performing arts organizations and 18 local restaurants to re-create the art audiences see onstage in the form of gourmet food at the second annual Art of Food Festival.
The event challenges area chefs, who are separated into groups, to prepare four courses (cocktails, appetizers, entrées and desserts) inspired by the Asolo Repertory Theatre, the Sarasota Opera, the Sarasota Orchestra and the Sarasota Ballet.
The resulting culinary collaboration benefits a fitting mission: ending hunger in Sarasota. Event co-chair Jill Berg says all proceeds benefit Junior League’s hunger initiative.
“We’re trying to build upon the reputation of Sarasota as not only a world-class arts Mecca, but also as a world-famous food Mecca.”
Participating chefs drew inspiration from backstage tours of the facilities and rehearsals.
Isaac Correa, owner and head chef at Baker & Wife, was drafted into the dessert division. He says after sitting in on a ballet rehearsal, he was impressed.
“They blew my mind,” he says. “When you look at the company perform, they’re so graceful, and there’s fantastic timing. They use so much concentration and energy. It’s more intense than any workout.”
Correa’s dish is a lavender-infused vanilla custard, draped in melted chocolate and orbited by tapioca pearls. Each scoop of custard is topped with a flower-petal-shaped, coffee-dried pear slice.
For some of the chefs and restaurants, the arts organizations are like family. For Sam Ray and the staff at Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill, the neighboring Sarasota Opera has been a longtime presence.
“Performers and patrons eat here before every show,” says Ray, co-owner of Tsunami. “We see them almost every day.”
Ray says, that often when they sing “Happy Birthday” to a table, opera singers and apprentice students lend their booming voices to the festivities.
In the spirit of the opera performers’ diverse personalities and voices, Ray and executive chef Allan Yu are presenting a company of multicolored and multiflavored sushi rolls including tuna, steamed shrimp, salmon and avocado and salmon eggs.
Relationships like the one between Tsunami and the Sarasota Opera are something Berg says she hopes the festival promotes as it continues to grow.
“We’re having each chef create something they don’t have on their menu,” she says. “That’s the attraction of this event. We’re making something completely new.”