BY FIONA STOKES (DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Published: April 20, 2012
Photo by, Kristin Reynolds
ST. CROIX – In an atmosphere of excitement, the smell of varying dishes fused together to create a culinary carnival across the beachfront as the sounds of laughter, calypso music and sizzling dishes blended in the night at the 12th annual Taste of St. Croix.
The Taste of St. Croix started 12 years ago as a small celebration of local restaurants and food. Organized by Katherine Pugliese and Kelly Odum, the event has grown into a week-long gala and fundraiser.
More than 60 restaurants and caterers lined up along the length of Divi Carina Bay Resort, wrapping around the pool and deck and tempting the attendees with their delicious cuisine. An anxious crowd awaited the 6 p.m. start, when chefs began to share sample portions of tasty dishes that ran the gamut in every possible way.
Some of the night’s favorites were okra papaya risotto with a piña colada salsa and lemon grass dressing; seafood and pumpkin chowder; coconut and curry ital; conch soup; pork wraps; grilled salmon; sushi; confetti rice; pork sliders; quesadillas; kallaloo; oxtail; fungi; and lionfish.
Kurt Blanche hesitantly bit into his fried lionfish, prepared by the Good to Chew students, but then he smiled and nodded in approval. “It actually tastes really good to be an ugly lionfish,” he said. It tasted like a nice meaty fish, he said.
For fans of sweets, offerings included raspberry mousse; passion fruit cheesecake; bread pudding; flan; chocolate cake; spice cake; rum cake; and cookies.
Tara Petersen said it was her first time at the Taste, and she was overwhelmed seeing the amount of food and the lovely presentations.
“I have never, ever been to anything like this before,” she said. “My mouth is very happy right now.”
The event is the centerpiece of the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience and is organized by the St. Croix Foundation. It has grown to be the biggest fundraiser for the organization and has continuously brought in millions of dollars for other non-profit organizations and projects.
Photo by, KRISTIN REYNOLDS People mingle and dine at the annual Taste of St. Croix on Thursday at the Divi Carina Bay.
Roger Dewey, executive director of the foundation, said he is pleased by how the event has grown during the years and how it has become regarded with high esteem. The event has been voted as one of the top 10 food and wine events in the world, and Dewey is very proud of that, he said.
The foundation was started in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and has taken on a number of community improvement projects, according to Dewey.
“If it was not for the work we do, many of the organizations we help would not be able to do the work that they do,” he said. “But if you did not do what you do to help us, we would not be able to help them.”
Pugliese said she was star-struck Thursday night by the talent of celebrity chefs who were visiting for the event. They all graciously agreed to be part of the event, and they all have been so impressed by the Crucian warm welcome that they vowed to spread the word about the island, she said.
Every year the event is dedicated to an individual who has made an impact on the industry, but this year, the organizers decided to dedicate the event to the entire St. Croix community because of their spirit of resilience and unity even in trying times, Pugliese said.
The V.I. Tourism Department is a sponsor of the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience and hosted 12 food and travel writers to experience and write about St. Croix, its culture and its people.
Celebrity chefs such as Gorvind Armstrong, Ana Sortun, Robert Trevino, Eric Greenspan and Evelyn Paul were among the VIP judges for the event and also participated in a week of dinners, food and wine pairings, competitions and crawls and event demonstrations with students.
Paul, who was born on St. Lucia and raised on St. Croix, said it was a joy for her to return for the Taste. As a personal chef for many celebrities, she has seen a lot and done a lot, but it was great for her to spend some time with the students in the culinary program at C-tech to see how much they have really grasped, she said.
“They were phenomenal. I was really impressed by how much they knew and how much they embraced the art,” said Paul, who will cook with the students today for the barbecue.
Sortun first came to St. Croix 15 years ago and said that much has changed, but she is glad to be back. The genuine hospitality and the beauty of the turquoise water and lush green hills keep her thinking that it is too good to be true, she said.
Although the Taste of St. Croix has passed for 2012, the culinary carnival continues with the Fork and Cork and Sunset BBQ today; Kids Cooking and Wine and the Warehouse on Saturday; and Cuisine on the Green wrapping up the week on Sunday.
The majority of the week’s proceeds go to the St. Croix Foundation and support Sunset Jazz, Christiansted Jump Ups, the V.I. Culinary Team, the Career and Technical School culinary program and culinary industry training and many of the community enhancement projects on St. Croix and throughout the territory.
For more information about the event or to get tickets for remaining events this week, call the foundation at 773-9898 or visit www.stcroixfoodandwine.com.
More than 60 local restaurants and caterers turned out with their culinary masterpieces Thursday night at the 12th Annual Taste of St. Croix.
Judges looked at presentation, creativity, taste, texture, composition and overall dish. By the end of the night, the celebrity chefs had determined winners in eight categories, with one restaurant winning the two most prominent prizes of Best Appetizer and Best Entree. Festival attendees also voted for the People’s Choice award, and for the first time, two winners tied for the coveted prize.
Best Appetizer – The Galleon
Best Entree – The Galleon
Best Soup/Stew – Palms at Pelican Cove
Best Dessert – Pirate’s Tavern
Best Local Fare – Ridge to Reef Farm
Best Vegetarian – Central High School
Best Beverage – John Eddie’s Lowlife Bar
Best Presentation – Tutto Bene
People’s Choice – Rum Runners; Carambola Golf Club.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.