Taste of the Championship
Tampa Bay's famed hospitality extended beyond football fans to eight visiting chefs, one from each of the six cities that host major bowl games, plus Tuscaloosa and Clemson, hometowns of the 2017 National College Football Championship competitors. Wayne Kostroski invited them to join 15 local restaurateurs cooking for 800 guests at the Taste of the Championship at the Florida Aquarium on Sunday.
"No divos or divas here, as people might think," he said. "Aramark shared their whole kitchen. Marty Blitz let Bruce Kalman of Union Pasadena prepare his roasted octopus at Mise en Place."
The pigskin theme prevailed at the $250-ticket benefit for the College Football Playoff Foundation and Extra Yard for Teachers. Bacon and pork bellies popped up at 717South, Parkshore Grill, Del Frisco's, and Rick Erwin's. "A lot of hogs were in trouble," Kostroski said, "because their family and friends contributed to the success of the event."
Between trophy photo ops and splashing otters, the crowd raved about short ribs by Bern's Steak House and Datz; Haven's smoked duck, Roux's blackened shrimp and Boca Kitchen Bar Market's brussels sprouts. Never does the Columbia, Ulele or Goody Goody's run out of paella, grilled oysters, banana cream or butterscotch pie.
Outback Bowl Gridiron Gala
What? No Bloomin' Onions? No Bang Bang Shrimp? When the Outback Bowl moved the Met Life/Mercedes Benz Gridiron Gala to the Marriott Waterside, title sponsor Bloomin' Brands was not permitted to import any perennial crowd-pleasers. Instead, 1,600 University of Florida Gators, Iowa's Hawkeyes and locals supporters helped themselves to a trio of burger, salmon and chicken sliders, fries, pizza, pasta and a salad bar Dec. 30.
"We had to learn some new tricks this year," said gala chairwoman Tracie Domino, who chose a trippy Boogie Wonderland theme and created a delightful wall of doughnuts. "Fairy tale characters go to a '70s disco," she said, as Belle danced with Aladdin, and Dorothy romped with Scarecrow, costumed Event Show Productions dancers sung Abba hits over a gigantic bar. (Congrats Gators, the 30 to 3 victors.)
NCF Foundation Leadership Hall of Fame Induction Dinner
"What can I do to help you succeed?" That mindset got NFL chief operations officer Tod Leiweke inducted into the National College Football Foundation's Leadership Hall of Fame, "the highest honor we bestow," said chairman Archie Manning at the kick-off event to the National Championship Jan. 5 at the Tampa Convention Center. USF president Judy Genshaft presented him a USF Bulls Skatecase, combo skateboard/briefcase, having already awarded an honorary doctorate.
Tara Leiweke narrated a video of her husband's "visionary" and "transformational" contributions, including climbing Mount Rainier twice to raise charitable funds. Famed climber Ed Viesturs spoke of his integrity and energy. Jeff Vinik almost missed a Tampa Bay Lightning game to honor his former CEO. Old friends and neighbors were just happy to see Tod and help support CFF scholar-athlete scholarships.
Friday: Grand Slam Social to benefit the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House; 6:30-9:30 p.m.; $50; tampabaseballmuseum.org/
Friday: Gasparilla: Tall Tales & Scandalous Stories; 6:45 p.m.; Music Room, the University of Tampa; free; seating is limited; (813) 258-7302.