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Divine morsels, setting blend for a good cause

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


In its third year, the Celebrity Chefs of Tampa Bay party to benefit Family Resources just keeps getting better. Thanks to the generosity of Drs. Tom and Jennifer Andrews, who opened all three floors of their Tierra Verde waterfront home, the setting was peerless.

Co-chairwoman Debbie Martino, committee member Debbie Tuthill and her husband, Doug, greeted arriving guests, Martino visibly relieved that the morning storms had moved on. So were the Andrewses, who faced the prospect of 300 wet-footed patrons turning their new house into a soggy grazing ground.

The format is clever: Get local notables and professional chefs to prepare and donate all the food. The menu, like the view, covered the waterfront from soup to nuts.

Golf pro Duke Bowen and wife Joanne sat in the master bedroom, a raw vegetable platter between them and Bowen's vegetable dip in a hollowed-out purple cabbage.

"My real specialty is fried snook that I catch," he said, "but it would have been too difficult to bring." Not to mention a recipe for disaster for the room's pale carpeting.

I met up with Tom Andrews in his closet, where he was visiting with Cary and Joan Putrino, and that is a story for another column. The aroma of garlic drew us out to the second-floor landing, where St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers' linguini and shrimp was heaped in casseroles.

"I have three children," she said, "two of them football players. I cook a lot."

County Commissioner Calvin Harris does not cook often, his wife, Ruth, said, but when he does, it also is in quantities. His recipe for macaroni salad serves 100, which he makes for church picnics.

"I left the horseradish out tonight so it wouldn't be too spicy," he said.

Harris was next to the roast beef carving station, where volunteers cranked out sandwiches (with horseradish), and it was a good place to loiter since everyone seemed to want one. Or more. "That's your second one," Nancy Biesinger said to husband John. He asked us not to watch him eat it, so I moved on to David and Guna Carr, who recently returned from the New York theater trip organized by American Stage every year.

"Did you really do the cooking?" I asked Rodney Gaddy, a Florida Power vice president, who brought a plate of lemon tarts he named "Gaddy's Surprise."

"Bona fide," he said. The real surprise was a second offering he made, a conically shaped "tree" covered with chocolate confections. "They taste like a Mounds bar," Gaddy said. "They're called Nipples of Venus, but don't write that." Fat chance.

Sharon Jackson, waiting for husband Doug to arrive, visited with Wayne Atherholt and Brian Joel, oblivious to the 6-foot-long spread of pastries laid out by Sharon Moorfield, a member of the Mid-day Business and Professional Women and a volunteer.

Party co-chair Christine Weigle, in a slinky cocktail dress, was earning her billing in the program by helping hoist a table full of meatballs from the grassy lawn onto the pool terrace. Her husband, Brad, gets credit for helping, but not as much, since he wasn't wearing high heels. "The table wasn't getting enough traffic," she said.

Getting lots of traffic were the lobster and crab cakes by Brian Leahy, former chef of Grand Finale, one of my favorite downtown restaurants, who recently opened the Bus Stop Cafe in Oldsmar.

County Commissioner John Morroni would not divulge the ingredients in his bruschetta ("family secret," he said), but it was traditional in taste, unlike the caramelized pear and goat cheese bruschetta by Fancy's Emil Topel, who willingly shared the yummy recipe. (Call me if you would like it.)

Beginning to feel like one of the overstuffed chairs in the family room, I briefly turned my attention to people, such as Terry and Kim Brett, Darryl and Melissa LeClair, Vern Farnsworth, Tom Stovall and Louise Weaver, Suzanne Fisher, Tami Simms-Powell and George and Carolyn Cretokos.

I regret missing many other fabulous-sounding offerings. But I could not leave without a dose of Redwoods' Oyster Rockefeller Stew, served by owner Emmanuel Roux. It was probably my favorite dish. And I have the recipe for it, too.

That same evening, Tables From Film drew a crowd of about 260 to the TradeWinds Island Resort to support Great Explorations the Hands On Museum and to honor Joyce Barrett Otazo, two-time past chairwoman of the party and a board member.

It also has a clever format, showcasing tablescapes inspired by movies.

At midday, co-chairwoman Janet Allweiss roamed the resort lobby. She and the other guild members, including Stephanie Dyer, Gail Lenas, Holly Piper, Christine Cobb, Heather Goodis and Elizabeth Skidmore, wore shorts or jeans, so co-chairwoman Mickie Breen stood out in a bathing suit and filmy cover-up.

"Are you being auctioned or something?" I asked.

"I'm staying here," she said. What a good idea.

Ruth Piper, who created the Splash table, almost rear-ended the truck bringing in an antique Gottlieb pinball machine, part of the auction. She stopped inches short of calamity both for the pinball machine and the huge copper grouper by Kevin Jacobs, the artist who created the birds at Tampa International Airport, that she carried in her car.

Mimi Houlton had the job of coordinating all the tables, and they were a diverse lot. The Flower Centre staff crafted a tree house of bamboo built into a forest of curly willow for Swiss Family Robinson. For The Secret Garden, Breck Moorefield painted a charming garden scene on a chest of drawers from the old Pennflora Hotel, which her father, Haydon Knowlton, managed.

Linda Gianella and Robert Giordano swathed a table in dropcloths and filled it with pottery from the Arts Center and St. Petersburg Clay Company, along with a potter's wheel, tools and works in progress for Ghost (you remember that scene between Demi Moore and Patrick Swazy). I loved the upholstered child's armchair painted by Lee Silbert Burgess with Babe and his farm friends; Kathy Stahl's painted picnic table for A Bug's Life; Nella Meyer's little dolls for Ferngully; the washed purple chairs used as planters from B & R Botanical for Buena Vista Social Club; Anje Bogott's take on Eloise -- okay, not a movie but still fun; and Margaret Ann Burtchaell's Fried Green Tomatoes table, which, because she's a caterer, included a basket of same with recipe.

In a pre-party huddle were guild president Murray Beairsto and executive director Bob Patterson, going over notes for that night's official launch of the capital campaign to raise money for renovations at the museum's new home in Sunken Gardens.

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