1st Annual Food & Travel Festival

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As one might guess, your SarasotaFoodies love food festivals . . . especially those that support charities like All Faiths Food Bank’s “Campaign Against Summer Hunger.”

Did you know there are local children who get most of their weekly nutrition through the local school system instead of at home? The “Campaign Against Summer Hunger” insures that these children get nutritious meals throughout the summer when schools are closed.  So when we heard of an event where guests can spend a beautiful spring day wandering through Sweetgrass Farms and taste a variety of international cuisines and wines while raising money to feed underprivileged children . . . well, count us in!

2016 was the first year for Destination Cuisines Food and Travel Festival, which took place on May 1st at Sweetgrass Farms. The inaugural year of any event is a starting-off point and we were pleasantly surprised to see a good mix of restaurants, travel companies and tour groups presenting at the festival, as well as booths selling internationally designed jewelry, cookware, and pottery from countries around the globe.

Not always “food focused”, your SarasotaFoodies also spent time talking with several travel companies that offered group tours to Italy, where we could take cooking classes, vineyard tours and olive oil classes. Ok. . . so we are food focused!

The food and wine tent at The Food and Travel Festival

The food and wine tent at The Food and Travel Festival

As for food sampling, we started with a slice of the delicious thin crust pizza from Goodfellas, who brought their mobile pizza oven cooking to Sweetgrass Farms, providing everyone with a hot slice oozing with melted cheese, as well as a sample of their locally grown wines.

Staying with the Italian theme, we headed over to Angelo’s Italian Market and Restaurant, where we sampled a wonderful gluten free lemon cake made with cheese, but wasn’t called a cheesecake. Then the Chef treated us to a pasta dish that he started cooking in a skillet and then tossed in a bowl carved into a large block of Parmesan ! With each rotation of his spoon, Chef was scraping cheese into the pasta. Totally cool!

Angelo's Italian Market & Restaurant

Angelo’s Italian Market & Restaurant

Also on the Italian side of the world cuisine, we enjoyed a large plating of several Italian dishes from Caffe Le Sirene. They loaded up our tasting plate with two pastas, bread and an amazing eggplant dish. We would have gotten the names of all the dishes if it weren’t for the line of guests queuing up behind us!  Needless to say . . . YUM!

Caffe Le Sirene's Sofia and Tiziana

Caffe Le Sirene’s Sofia and Tiziana

Heading over to the Japanese cuisine, we found one of our favorites, Tsunami Sushi and Hibachi serving up two delicious bites – a Stuffed Shrimp from their Appetizer menu, and a sushi roll topped with a sweet mango sauce. While both were delightful, the mango sauce on the sushi seemed perfectly matched for this warm spring day.

Tsunami's Stuffed Shrimp appetizer and sushi with mango sauce

Tsunami’s Stuffed Shrimp appetizer and sushi with mango sauce

Chef Paul Mattison was on hand at his booth, with a number of guests waiting to talk to him. That’s nothing unusual in our experience. Paul is one of our better known local chefs and frequently supports charity events. Chef Mattison was scheduled to do a presentation on the stage a few moments later, so we left him to his waiting fans.

Paul Mattison meets with foodie fans

Paul Mattison meets with foodie fans

Curry Station Indian Cusine offered up one of the tastiest bites of the day; a vegetarian dish called Aalo Tikki. Essentially a round vegetable patty made with cumin, turmeric and other spices, this dish certainly delivered on the rich flavors of India! As Mart his first bite he exclaimed: “This dish is reason enough to go to Curry Station!”  No doubt we’ll be headed there soon!

Curry Station's Aalo Tikki

Curry Station’s Aalo Tikki

Throughout the food tent, there were opportunities to sample wines from around the world, as well as some unique libations like the Punch Abruzzo Evangelista Liquor. The Evangelista hails from Borrello Italy, with rum, citrus and coffee notes which taste completely different if tasted warm, at room temperature or over ice. It’s even used in cakes, ice cream and as a meat marinade. So, we learned, and tasted, something we never experienced that day!  And isn’t that what we’d wanted from the start?

Punch Abruzzo Evangelista

Punch Abruzzo Evangelista

Being a warm spring day, it was great to pick up a dish of ice cream from the folks at Sub Zero, where they blast their ice cream with -321 degrees of liquid nitrogen to freeze it instantly.  We ordered a scoop of raspberry and one of chocolate to share.  The one bite I had of each was smooth, creamy and packed with flavor.  Too bad Mart didn’t “remember” to share more than that first bite with me!  While I was snapping photos of the server flash freezing ice cream, he managed to finish off the entire dish!  Boo on him! (I really don’t need the calories, so he was forgiven!)

Sub Zero means sub-zero!

Sub Zero means sub-zero!

Later in the day there was an Iron Chef-style challenge between the Indian and Italian chefs, as well as the afore mentioned presentation by Chef Mattison. Throughout the day, many of the guests were taking part in a scavenger hunt by gathering clues from each of the vendors.  And why not!  There was a chance to win a trip to South Africa! How appropriate for an event called The Food and Travel Festival !

Being it’s first year, this wasn’t the largest food festival we’ve been to, but smaller has its advantages, like being able to visit with the Chefs, ask questions and see the demos up close and personal. We’re guessing that Destination Cuisine, the sponsor of the Food and Travel Festival, has established the groundwork for a unique festival that should easily attract even more local restaurants at next year’s event.

As for  the 2016 Festival? We left with full tummies and happy hearts, knowing that each guest helped feed a hungry child this summer. And isn’t that delicious!

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