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Cooking up a fundraiser

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 1, 2002


THE ART OF FINE DINING: Marcelina opened its doors -- and kitchen -- to chef Art Smith, who opened his cookbook, Back to the Table and went to work.

Smith, personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, came to Tampa to help out Patsy Woodroffe, director of public affairs of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies. Smith and Woodroffe have known each other for 20 years, since he carved watermelons and pumpkins for the Burdines promotions she organized.

Touting his new book, Smith taught a cooking class and chatted with sponsors and guests at the Sunday benefit which will raise about $30,000 to furnish the research institute at the University of South Florida.

The fundraiser offered two levels of participation. About a dozen women paid $1,000 to $5,000 to watch Smith make cheddar cheese straws, Gulf shrimp stew, seared tuna nicoise and other dishes. Darla France, Mavis Graven, Sandy Thomas, Suzanne Taggart, Pat Sullivan, June Annis, Terry Lea Pepin and Ruth White gleaned Smith's cooking tips. Just one guy sat in on the class, restaurateur Ed Chiles, who loved to hunt and cook game with his father, the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Chef Rita Carlino hustled all day helping Smith, along with her whiz kids, son and daughter Richard and Kelly Chandler. They were ready when the second shift arrived at 6 p.m. for a tasting of Smith's specialties, a relative bargain at $75 per person or $100 per couple. That group included Rick Rowe, the architect who designed the 14,000-square foot Chiles Center, and his wife Linda; Candy DeBartolo; Betsy and Larry Stagg; Theresa and Jim Woodside; Susan Gage; Ben and Emi Wacksman; Roberta Golding; and Helen Gordon Davis.

Guests explored all three levels of the Marcelina mansion -- the exclusive Valentino boutique on the first floor, the spa treatment rooms on the second floor, and the third floor ballroom where owner Maureen Rorech Dunkel displays her celebrity gown collection.

Smith ended his cooking chores to oohs and ahhs as everyone gathered around the dining room table to watch him assemble a 12-layer chocolate cake, his mother's recipe.

* * *

THE ART OF MISTY: Friends, java junkies and maybe some art collectors showed their support for budding artist Misty Schroeder at the Avant Garde group's Art of Cocktails on Feb. 20 at Blue Gardenia.

Much loved for the lattes she makes at Starbucks on Howard Avenue, Schroeder invited all her regulars to her first art show.

"This is the first time anyone besides my roommate has seen my stuff," Schroeder said of her sculptures and collages. She hadn't even set prices when Schroeder groupies began filling the Platt Street restaurant, including Joy Tapper, formerly owner of Joy's Shoe Salon, now a financial planner with Morgan Stanley; University of Tampa art professor Joanne Steinhardt; starving actor Rich Benson, Starbucks stalwart Betsy Rice; Plant High School teachers Susan Gray and Tonya Thomas; and firefighter Tony Diaz.

Another fan, attorney Ed Krieger, known to Schroeder as a Triple Venti nonfat sugarfree latte, starts every day with a triple dose of espresso.

"At least one a day, more often two," says Krieger, who lives two blocks away from the SoHo Starbucks.

Avant Garde also invited Diego Puertas Oliva, a Venezuelan native, now of St. Petersburg, to display his artwork. Diego's influences -- Braque, Picasso and Pollack -- are obvious in his Bar Series' pieces, such as El Alcoholico, and his Anger Series.

Avant Garde chairwoman Lindsey Bettendorf and vice president Jennifer Zimmerman, organize showings like this every few months. The idea is to attract young professionals and artists to get involved with the Tampa Museum of Art. You can join for $35 (individual) or $50 per couple.

* * *

ANOTHER REASON TO CELEBRATE: Harbour Island resident James Reese, also a Starbucks steady, brought his sister Patty Lipkin to Blue Gardenia to see Schroeder's work, but also to celebrate his publishing success.

Reese's first novel, The Book of Shadows, has just been released by William Morrow. The historical plot, set during the French Revolution, has a supernatural theme (think Anne Rice). His two-month book promotion tour began at Inkwood Books yesterday.

* * *

TIMELESS: The Hyatt Regency Westshore was a sea of St. John Knits when the LAMPLighters hosted their 10th annual fashion show Feb. 22 to benefit Metropolitan Ministries.

"It's all about comfortable elegance," said designer Marie St. John Gray. Gray said she doesn't attend many fashion shows like these, but Saks is a huge account. (St. John Knits is their No. 1 vendor, according to Saks General Manager Kathy Werner.) "And the cause is for children," said Gray.

Fashion show co-chairwoman Elaine Newman got a standing ovation for a decade of service to the auxiliary. Her irrepressible buddy Betty Wood led the cheer, especially lauding the The LAMPLightsignificant number of underwriters, including 300 patrons at $100 each. LAMPLighters president Carolyn Black announced that money raised from the show would go specifically to children and families for counseling, job training and health care, and would not be spent on Metropolitan Ministries general operations.

She had previously expressed concern over the charity's exclusion of non-Christians from its board.

Of the 500-plus women checking out the casual and formal spring line, more than a hundred chose to model their own St. John Knit. Here are just a few, in alphabetical order, with apologies to the many I missed as I surveyed the room: Evelyn Bowles, Suzette Berkman, Rita Cuervo, Marsha Dickey, Marguerite Dressler, Toni Farkas, Angeles Ferlita, Vicki Fox, Linda McClintock Greco, Sally Habermeyer, Shelly Jakes, Jerri Jesson, Sandy Juster, Mary Kelly, Ellen McLean, Kathleen Nestor, Kim Reed, Jeannette Royster, Barbara Ryals, Joan Schabacker, Jenny Swindal, Madonna Swindal, Susan Sykes, Michele Williams and Suzie Wrenn.

Bravos to both the dramatic lighting illuminating the St. John fashions and Hyatt pastry sous-chef Suzanne Gendrot's amazing dessert. Inside a delicate phyllo dough sack was a flourless chocolate cake filled with warm ganache and dotted with raspberries. Incredible.

* * *

CLUB CONNECTIONS. The networking opportunities are boundless, both personal and professional, at the Centre Club, says membership director Star Garcia, using last weekend's Board of Governors' Black and White Ball as an example.

Chairman Rick Cunningham, his wife, Carol, Sandy and Floyd Juster, Melissa and Brad Spring, Francine and Richard Dobkin and about 50 other members and their guests dressed formally to eat sushi, crab legs, lamb chops and the club's signature item, crab cakes. They danced to Machin until midnight. At $99 each, the bar stayed open and the buffet never emptied.

Garcia says the response was terrific, especially from the new members, and she can't wait until the Titanic 90th Anniversary dinner on April 13.

- To pass along tips to Amy Scherzer, reach her at 226-3332 or scherzer@sptimes.com.

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