Second annual Foodlosophy serves up Sarasota's best cuisine — with a side of philanthropy.
Amongst the glittering gowns and elegant décor, it can be easy for guests to lose sight of a gala’s true purpose.
Last year, when St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital created Foodlosophy: A Sarasota Culinary Experience, this idea was at the heart of the event.
The fundraiser brings together six of Sarasota’s most renowned chefs and bakers to create a five-course meal using local, sustainable ingredients. Just as the patients at the Memphis-based hospital are served fresh produce from its 18 on-site vegetable gardens, guests at Foodlosophy dine on fresh products from 12 area farms and other food and berverage producers.
The aim is to spend an enjoyable evening learning from patients and St. Jude staff about the organization’s values, particularly the St. Jude Culinary Team’s health-conscious “foodlosophy.”
The participating chefs and bakers are given a list of donated ingredients, which they have to use to create a gourmet meal.
The 2017 chefs are encouraged to derive inspiration from this year’s theme, Memphis. We touched base with a few of them to learn what they have planned — and what this event means to them.
When Derek Blackburn was approached to be a part of the inaugural Foodlosophy, he had only been a part of the Sarasota culinary scene for four months.
“Last year, I was very apprehensive,” he says. “I was the new kid in town. You’ve got all these established chefs, and then I come walking in. But everyone was extremely helpful and friendly.”
The Texas native first started as a “sandwich architect” in Dallas at the age of 19, but it was after beloved Dallas chef Julian Barsotti took him under his wing that he truly fell in love with cooking.
He then went on to graduate from culinary school and work in Dallas, New Orleans and Pittsburgh, but it was the warm weather and a desire to spend more time with his wife, Diana, whom he met when the two were both vacationing in Sarasota, that brought him back here.
Last year, Blackburn was still operating his catering business, SRQ Food Lovers, by himself out of his mother’s home. Besides the impressive lineup of chefs, he says working with the farmers made the most lasting impression.
He recalls one farmer who forgot to bring an ingredient two days before the event, then showed up at his mother’s house at 7:30 a.m. the next day — after driving from Nokomis — with the forgotten kale.
“He had that kind of passion to help out for the hospital,” Blackburn says. “It wasn’t about getting his name out there. Later, he was at the event with his son trying to get in the kitchen to help.”
This year, Blackburn was assigned one of the three main courses and asked to prepare shrimp and grits. He suggested a twist on the Southern classic to base the dish more in Memphis BBQ: a shrimp sausage bound with pork over Memphis-style baked beans and some kind of grit cake, or potentially a corn pudding.
His plan is still in the works with the St. Jude organizers, but he assures attendees they’re in for a taste of Tennessee.
For Blackburn, the best part of the event is meeting outstanding community members who are willing to donate their products, time and money to St. Jude.
“It’s this total community, or village effort — it takes a village, as they say,” Blackburn says.
As one of the most recognized names in the Sarasota culinary scene, it’s no surprise that Christian Hershman was approached to be a part of the inaugural Foodlosophy.
The former chef/co-proprietor of State Street Eating House + Cocktails says he enjoyed the fun, food-driven vibe of the formal yet simultaneously casual event so much that at the end of the night, he told organizers he wanted to participate again.
But other than the upbeat buzz of the evening, it was the chance to collaborate with other chefs and hear the touching personal story of a former St. Jude patient that made him a true fan of the event.
“There’s a certain amount of focus and comradery that naturally occurs,” he says. “All of us cooks who are slightly competitive are all working together well, plating each other's food.”
Hershman notes that at many local fundraisers, there are the predictable elements such as the auction and a speech of gratitude from the chairs, but having a patient speak seemed somewhat uncommon and gave Foodlosophy a more personal feel.
This year, Hershman’s back with a savory Tennessee dish of pork shoulder in redeye gravy and kush, a sort of cousin of stuffing that consists of crumbled up sautéed corn bread with bits of onions and spices.
His main course consists of pork donated by Butcher Block, cold brew coffee (used in the gravy) donated by Perq, savoy cabbage heads and sweet red onions donated by Aloe Organics and spinach and dandelion donated by Jessica’s Organic Farm.
Hershman likes that a main objective of event organizers is to showcase local farms and other food and beverage producers because it forces him to get to know where and who the food is coming from.
“It kind of breaths more of a soul into the event because we all have to be engaged in it ,” he says. “To me, it’s all those little things that make good food — all this human attention to everything.”
Darwin Santa Maria
Darwin Santa Maria has experienced many changes in his culinary career in the past year, and he hopes participating in Foodlosophy for the first time will help him grow even more.
His new restaurant, CeviChela Latin Street Food, has been open for about seven months, so Santa Maria says he is eager to get out of his kitchen and see what other local chefs have been up to. He’s always looking for new items to improve his menu, and he says working alongside some of Sarasota’s finest chefs is a great way to get inspired.
“Sometimes in the business, you don’t get to see them,” he says of other chefs. “So this is a chance to get together, cook together and talk about the business.”
Santa Maria is all for local ingredients, so he appreciates the St. Jude culinary team’s focus on producing local, fresh, sustainable meals.
“I don’t think we’re the stars in this event,” he says. “The way I look at it, I want the local produce to shine. We’re just here as the chefs to make it shine.”
Santa Maria will prepare tiradito, a Peruvian entree that will either consist of beef or fish, with his take on a Memphis barbecue sauce he’ll make with aji panca, a Peruvian red pepper. He’ll also include grilled cauliflower and stuffed avocado with crab meat for garnish.
As a father, he says this event carries special significance.
“Because I have three kids, I thank God that they are healthy, and I just want to give back to this research hospital,” he says.
Owner of Sift Bakehouse Christine Nordstrom loves to give back so much that she has her own display board to hang all the thank-you cards she gets from events.
Last year, she added St. Jude to her wall by participating in the inaugural Foodlosophy, where she won guests over with a twist on her popular Lucy May cake. This year, she’s thinking about doing an altered version of another popular item, her pecan squares, with chocolate ganache on the plate and a bourbon caramel sauce that goes along with the Southern feel of this year’s theme.
“The foodlosophy event is unique because the focus is on the chef and what they do, their specific skills,” she says. “I like it because they make it all about the specific person and their talents and how they made the choices for their course.”
She says she also enjoys putting her culinary skills to use to benefit a cause tha is close to her heart.
“This gives chefs a great opportunity to use their skill sets and their profession to help people in a different way, rather than just give money,” she says.