OK, foodie fanatics, you’re getting plenty of notice. Rather than ogle endlessly over savory dishes via Instagram or Food Network, the Ocala Culinary Festival (OCF) arrives March 1-5, 2017, armed with a mind-blowing cornucopia of highbrow gastronomy to satisfy your most discriminating gourmet cravings.
First, let’s address those distracting yowls of hunger. At this five-day, inaugural event, cofounders Jennifer Hunt and Elodie Perron assure more palate-pleasing menu options than you can shake a fork at. To do so, a band of hometown chefs will throw open their kitchen doors and commence cooking alongside other visiting industry notables. This esteemed squad of ambassador chefs includes Perron’s husband, Chef Patrice Perron, Albert Barrett, Jeremiah Goodrich, Stephanie Harrison, Rick Alabaugh, Dimitrios Pomakis and Chad Carp.
“We’re inviting out-of-town talent to come cook with us and see firsthand why we love serving this community,” says Chef Patrice.
A particular highlight will be the Friends of the James Beard Foundation fundraising dinner at La Cuisine French Restaurant on March 1, led by owner Chef Patrice and two chef colleagues. The James Beard Foundation, a renowned New York-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting education and fellowship through culinary events. As host, OCF plans to raise money for the James Beard National Scholars program.
As to all manner of thirst, the founders promise each meal’s optimal alcohol pairing thanks to the select stock of participating sommeliers, mixologists, distillers and suppliers.
And the pièce de résistance? Landmark Ocala art venues will serve up dramatic flair at three marquee dinners taking place March 2 through March 4. Although still in development, guests can choose seating at the Reilly Arts Center, Appleton Museum of Art or a charming pastoral farm. At the Reilly Arts Center feast, the chef’s menu for the evening will be inspired by the musical selections of Ocala Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Matthew Wardell. In addition, the Ocala Civic Theatre lends its support by concocting a handful of entertaining surprises.
With so many pitching in their talents and administrative chops to ensure festival success, Hunt reserves distinct praise for OCF Style Consultant Paula King. Based on her unique background as editorial stylist and proprietor of Agapanthus lifestyle store, King offers her table styling expertise to each marquee dinner.
“I am thrilled to play a role in this festival, as it represents the essence of what sharing food should be,” says King.
Reflecting back, Hunt and Perron recall how their growing friendship, business relationship and passion for fine cuisine finally ignited their desire to produce a full-blown food fête. While researching La Cuisine’s bar options, they would attend various industry events.
“I’m pretty sure the final ‘let’s do it’ moment came when we were at Charleston (S.C.) Wine & Food,” says Perron.
But sandwiching festival organizing into a regular business day is no easy mission, especially considering both women already have a lot on their plates (so to speak). As Perron manages her restaurant full time, Hunt is busy opening a gin distilling enterprise.
Adds Perron, “We got back from Charleston and hit the ground running, knowing it would take every bit of the whole year to bring a reasonable plan to fruition.”
Regardless, they have managed to unite the necessary Ocala forces to realize the dream.
The emerging farm-to-table philosophy and fresh wares of Florida farms has only precipitated the timeliness of this event. Drawing from her days on an organic Oklahoma ranch and now directing organic wine sales at JF Wine Imports, OCF Wine Consultant Sarah Moeller observes the value and care behind fresh, unprocessed foods.
“This movement is not only preserving the biodiversity of our planet, it is ensuring that when we eat, we actually taste something, something real and worth savoring,” says Moeller.
If this all sounds like an amazing appetizer to several luscious upcoming courses, you can rest assured the OCF is well worth the wait. Your cuisine dream team beckons: “Come experience the camaraderie of our chefs and warm hospitality of our city.”
Food For Thought
Let’s dish! OCF daytime seminars drop some knowledge to feed your mind, too.
French Winemaking and Tasting
French vintner Brice Doan de Champassak hails from Château Saint-Pierre de Mejans, whose once controversial winemaking priory dates all the way back to medieval times. Attendees sip wines while listening to de Champassak’s studious process, from harvesting grapes to measuring rainfall and more.
Jose Juarez’s Grilling Clinic
Learn from a local! After a national TV appearance on LIVE With Kelly, Ocala’s “BarbaCuban” Jose Juarez continues to gain notoriety with his inventive Cuban Fusion grilling techniques shown on his LIVE Web To Table video series and 455, his latest homemade sauce venture. Limited attendance.
Check ocalaculinaryfestival.com for developing seminar details and additional tastings.
Dine & Spirits: Bourbon Invitational Starts Up Something Big
Before OCF’s March debut, co-founders Jennifer Hunt and Elodie Perron decided to scratch their itch by introducing a run-up feast to the fest with their Bourbon Invitational dinner at La Cuisine French Restaurant, which was held on October 14.
The celebration unfurled a stunningly plated, five-course meal for a coterie of 70 hungry guests. But the evening’s essential ingredient was when hosts and chefs blithely channeled the spirit world—bourbon spirit, to be exact. Given the food scene’s budding love affair with high-end bourbon pairings, today’s whiskey has hopped off granddaddy’s shelf and breathes life anew right at the dinner table. Whether to parallel, contrast or layer? These guests sampled a whole untapped range of bourbon flavor complexities coordinated with the thoughtfully curated New American menu.
Post dinner, the Invitational turned up with a private concert and exclusive auction to purchase small batch and single barrel bourbons. Even though it’s still incredibly difficult to get your mitts on more commonplace bourbons due in part to the lingering swank appeal of the Mad Men series, Hunt recounts how scoring more exceptional brands was no easy trick.
“Our organizers spent six months exhausting every connection to obtain enough bourbon for the event. Because of those efforts, rare bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and William Larue Weller were available for purchase. There was another small batch bourbon out of Kentucky called Noah’s Mill that took six months of ordering to obtain only eight bottles,” says Hunt.
In the end, the hard work paid off with all proceeds going to the Marion County Literacy Council (MCLC), which promotes adult literacy through programs involving reading, GED preparation, English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), basic computer usage, citizenship, finances and health, as well as volunteer tutoring in the Marion County Jail and Lowell Correctional Institute. The Invitational forges another inspiring partnership with this nonprofit’s ideals.
“While food sustains our bodies, education sustains us for a lifetime. The MCLC gives people who want to work hard to improve their lives a hand up through education,” says Hunt.
Both founders regard the Bourbon Invitational not only as a way to kick off culinary festivities, it’s also a kind of bellwether-slash-dress rehearsal, demonstrating their tireless quest for premium brands and talent that fellow food buffs can enjoy.
A Tasty Timeline
Ocala Culinary Festival
March 1-5, 2017
Friends of the James Beard Foundation fundraising dinner
La Cuisine Restaurant
48 SW 1st Avenue, Ocala
Three Marquee Dinners
Reilly Arts Center 500 NE 9th Street, Ocala
Appleton Museum of Art 4333 E Silver Springs Boulevard, Ocala
lovely, rustic farm
Appetite For Art
To brand the event, OCF and the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA) will judge from a pool of Florida artists and choose an official poster design to feature on festival merchandise.
The competition winner:
receives a $1,000 cash prize
receives 12 copies of the official 24-inch by 36-inch commemorative poster
will be honored as a special guest at key festival events and be available to sign posters.
will also be spotlighted in a future issue of Ocala Style magazine, the OCF media partner
The original art piece will be sold to benefit the MCA, so come take a peek.
Stay In The Know
Because tickets for OCF events will be limited and available December 1, here’s few suggestions to make sure you don’t miss out!
Sign up for email updates on the website.
Like OCF on Facebook for new events and entertainment lineups.
Contact: [email protected]ocalaculinaryfestival.com with further questions.