South Africa — a country rich with flavor, culture and beauty — has intrigued and inspired Sarasota travelers for years. But on recent visits, tourists began to glimpse the plight of the rural community there, and they have since been compelled to give back through Safari Sarasota.
This three-day, five-part event (which has been a biannual tradition since 2013) combines South African gourmet fare with global giving. It is Michael's On East’s way of raising funds for overseas schoolchildren, all while introducing locals to exotic food, wine and culture.
It will be held from Thursday, Oct. 24 to Saturday, Oct. 26 at various locations (the Michael’s ballroom and wine cellar, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Ringling College of Art and Design), and will feature a host of South African chefs, activists and businesspeople.
“South Africa has held a special place in our hearts since the moment we first arrived there with our Gulf Coast Connoisseur Club clients back in 2005,” says Michael’s co-proprietor Michael Klauber, referring to an area group of fine-dining patrons who travel together on luxury excursions.
While lodging at the Londolozi Game Reserve and exploring the country, club travelers witnessed South Africa’s ailing educational system and lack of resources. Safari Sarasota was created to raise awareness for the low-income youth there, and proceeds now benefit South Africa’s Good Work Foundation nonprofit via its fundraising arm, the All Heart Fund.
The latter organization was founded in remembrance of Leanna Knopik, a 16-year-old Sarasota native who visited South Africa and tragically died nearly a year after her 2011 trip. Honoring Knopik’s charitable vision of helping the country’s children, the two foundations have built five schools in South Africa since 2013 and currently provide high-impact digital literacy access to more than 7,000 students every week.
To continue bolstering the fundraising momentum, Safari Sarasota has compiled a stellar cast for this year’s event schedule. Celebrity guests from South Africa include Anna Ridgewell, Londolozi’s executive chef; Dave Varty, Londolozi’s CEO and co-founder; Kate Groch, Good Work Foundation's CEO and co-founder; and Boyd Varty, a renowned wildlife activist and author.
There will be five opportunities for Sarasota participants to experience the cuisine of South Africa, including an interactive cooking dinner led by Ridgewell and Michael’s chef Jamil Piñeda, as well as an African bush dinner (a re-creation of a traditional nighttime safari meal).
James Tyrrell—an acclaimed wildlife tracker, photographer and Londolozi guide who won “Safari Guide of the Year 2018”—will also be in attendance and may tell stories about his adventures. He produces much of the digital content for Londolozi and has a special connection to Knopik (he was the guide on her first and only trip).
“I got on especially well with Leanna. One could see already what a special girl she was at that age. We were all devastated at Londolozi to hear of her passing,” Tyrrell says. “But I am thrilled this year to be attending an event that benefits the GWF, an organization that is doing such amazing work in rural South Africa. To see the incredible work the Klaubers do for a cause that was so important to Leanna is very special.”