Top Chef of the Year Tampa Bay

My Hat

I designed and special-ordered this hot pink hat from my favorite shop in New Orleans. I was thrilled to be able to wear it for the first time to the 2012 Top Chef dinner organized by my friend Maria Lewis, Director of Development for the “newly renamed” Champions for Children organization in Tampa. This event would raise funds to build stronger families through child abuse prevention and family education programs.

Twelve participating chefs would prepare – tableside – a five course meal with accompanying wines for a table of 12 or 15 people. They also provide their own linen, china, centerpieces and more to create their own unique vision. Vying for three prestigious titles: “Top Chef of the Year Tampa Bay”, “Top Philanthropic Chef of the Year” and “Best Table Decor”, the competition looked to be deliciously fierce!

Tampa Bay Times Forum

My friends and I arrived early to view the gorgeous table decorations and meet the chefs as they were setting up. The tables were all so beautiful that it was hard to choose. Tampa Bay Times Forum (Chef Rich Mathis) wins the Top Chef award for “Best Table Decor” with the dramatic dark blue tablecloths, elegant place settings and stunning ice sculptures!

Executive Chef & Culinary Educator

Anxious to locate our table and meet our own chef for the evening, we were surprized to realize “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW”! We would be dining with Chef Rene Marquis’ with the Special Operations Command at MacDill AFB in Tampa. Chef Marquis’ has an impressive background including Senior Chef Instructor at the Army Center of Excellence in Virginia, teaching the flagship culinary course for all of the military services. He trained Teams for the 2006 Culinary World Cup in Luxemborg, placing 4th in the world, and for the 2008 Culinary Olympics in Germany, taking 2nd place with 13 gold medals! Needless to say, we were looking forward to some extraordinary cuisine.

Pelagia Trattoria

I loved the Pelagia Trattoria table and was facinated by Chef Andrew Basch’s Third Course, “Squid Ink Pappardelle with foie gras butter”, served with Valpolicella. This award-winning restaurant specializes in “made from scratch” recipes with menus that change with the seasons.


Chef Von Burg from Armani’s was working on a menu including a “Lobster Scaloppini” and “Swordfish Braciole with citrus nage”. We all know that this is a sophisticated restuarant, known for its authentic Northern Italian cuisine and it’s spectacular panoramic views of
Tampa Bay. And my favorite part – it features live piano music!


One of the city’s culinary treasures, L’Eden, offers a menu of international dishes with a strong Mediterranean influence. Tonight Chef Jamgotchian would serve a “Pave de Filet de Boeuf au Poivre et sa Moelle”. His dessert was “Clace au Chocolat, Sauce Vanille”, accompanied by my favorite champagne, “Veuve Cliquot”.

Chef Marquis' - US Special Ops Command

Our own menu from Chef Marquis’ was stellar! It started with a seafood trio which inluded “Sauted Sea Bass with Tropical Fruit Salsa”, “Seared Tuna on a bed of Cabbage Slaw” and Blackened Scallop with Succotash”, generously washed down with a Pinot Grigio. A scrumptious “Cream of Broccoli and Carrot Ginger Soup” was next, followed by a trio salad sampler. Our main course was a “Seared Rib Eye with Boursin Yukon Gold Potatoes Braised in Beer with Wild Mushrooms and Au Gratin Potatoes”. We loved it. And we loved that Chef Marquis’ kept his promise and made sure that our wine glasses stayed full!

The Four Food Groups!

There were some facinating desserts being offered by tonight’s talented chefs, including “Chocolate biscotti, fava bean gastrique and mint oil” (Chef Ryan Mitchell-Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse) and “Not So Old Fashioned Grilled Peach Melba with Toasted Raspberries and Marscapone Mousse over Warm Pound Cake Pudding” (Chef Parker Stafford-Blue Water Grille). After our fabulous four courses, we wondered if we would be able to finish our own Chef Marquis’ unique “Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana Ice Cream” – but just for a minute!

The Local Media

Our Master of Ceremonies was the inimitable Jack Harris who co-hosts AM Tampa Bay, often the highest rated morning show in Tampa. And he can now be seen on ABC Action News. Jack is a gracious host with an engaging personality and would definitely be my top choice to run an auction! The Live Aution Items included exciting dining experiences, romantic “get aways”, concert tickets, tickets to The Tampa Bay Lightning and to the Tampa Bay Rays and several private parties. Many items included autographed chef’s jackets. Auction items were generated or donated by participating chefs and their restaurants. The “Top Philanthropic Chef of the Year” award goes to the chef who raises the most money through sponsorships and live auction items.

Chef Marquis' Donna

After a girl’s “huddle”, our loyal foursome decided to bid in the Live Auction. We had our eye on the “Dinner for four at your home, prepared by Chef Rene Marquis’ (wines included) and an autographed chef’s jacket from Chef Rene Marquis”. It was valued at $250.00. I won’t tell you how much more we paid, but it was well worth it for this chairity! We decided to give Donna the chef’s jacket as she graciously offered to have the dinner at her lovely home.

Top Philanthropic Chef of the Year

Stylish, contemporary dining is the hallmark of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse. They also boast some of the finest wines in the world, all available by the glass. Besides providing an exceptional menu for this event, Chef Mitchell managed to raise an astonishing $6,600+, through sponsorships and live auction items. This makes Chef Ryan Mitchell our “Top Philanthropic Chef of the Year Tampa Bay”. Champions for Children appreciates Fleming’s continued support. In Fact, Fleming’s will host the Champions for Children Auxiliary’s Martini Party on May 10, 2012. We hope to see you all there!

Top Chef of the Year Tampa Bay

The “Top Chef Of the Year Tampa Bay” award goes to the chef who scores the highest overall average on the courses they prepared for their guests this evening. The winning menu was prepared by Chef Rich Mathis from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Chef Mathis is a Pro Chef II and a Certified Executive Chef and has become proficient in fruit carving and Ice Sculpture. Chef Mathis’s menu included: “Saffron Poached Filet of Chilean Sea Bass”, “Prosciutto and Leek Wrapped Terrine of Veal”, “Confit of Duck, Wild Mushroom Ragout”, “Kobe Beef Tenderloin”, “Lavendar Smoked Diver Scallop”, “Colorado Lamb” and “Creme Brulee Three Ways”. There were accoutrements with each course that one only sees in some of the finest dining restuarants in the world! You can view his complete menu at

Top Chef Winners and Assistants

Congratulations to the 2012 Top Chef of the Year Winners! Chef Rich Mathis, Tampa Bay Times Forum, “Top Chef of the Year Tampa Bay” and “Best Table Decor”. Chef Ryan Mitchell, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, “Top Philanthropic Chef of the Year”.

Twelve chefs brought their culinary genius and creative vision to provide an elegant evening of decadent foods and stunning decor for 160 guests.

Our thanks go to the following chefs: Chef Andrew Basch of Pelagia Trattoria, Chef Caesar Castro of Publix Greenwise Market, Chef Ben Guggemos of the Hillsborough County School System, Chef Gerard Jamigotchian of L’Eden, Chef Rene Marquis’ of the Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Chef Rich Mathis of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Chef Ryan Mitchell of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Chef Richard Preston of SHOR American Seafood Grill at the Clearwater Hyatt, Chef Parker Stafford of the Blue Water Grill at the Wyndam Tampa Westshore, Chef Mike Von Burg of Armani’s, Chef Dave West of Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon and Chef Keith Williamson of Jackson’s Bistro, Bar & Sushi.

Top Chef of the Year Tampa Bay Participating Chefs

Congratulations to Maria Lewis and Champions for Children (formerly Child Abuse Council) for this impressive and delightful evening, which raised nearly $42,000 to help towards its mission – to serve children and their families through child abuse prevention and family education programs.

About myhataffair

This blog is about my life-long passion for wearing ladies hats. I will be blogging on a year-long event series that features my prized hat collection.
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