Almost 2,000 food fanciers converged on the Divi Carina Resort Thursday night for the 12th annual Taste of St. Croix, and it wasn’t just the food that brought them, although that was phenomenal.
The Taste of St. Croix is more than another food event, said Roger Dewey, president of the St. Croix Foundation and one of the sponsors of the event. And many of the attendees echoed that sentiment.
"It’s the best of everything," said Tamara Libby, who splits time between St. Croix and Montana.
"Everything is so intense, so flavorful."
The Forbes online travel site, Forbestravel.com, has named the 12-year-old Taste of St. Croix one of the 10 best food events in the world. The Taste of St. Croix has become the highlight of a week-long slate of food events sponsored by the St. Croix Foundation, raising funds to support both charitable work and to support such local food programs like the St. Croix Culinary Team and the food education program at the Career Training and Education Center at the St. Croix Educational Complex.
Dewey said the influence of the festival has spread beyond a single day at the eastside Divi resort. It’s now the third biggest event on the island’s calendar, trailing only the two traditional big events, the Crucian Christmas Festival and the Ag Fair, he said, adding that merchants have told him the sale of women’s shoes and fashions spike in the weeks leading up to the event, as more and more women want to dress up and make it a special night out.
About 1,800 tickets were sold at $95 apiece, and if the crowd seemed slightly down this year, as several regular attendees commented, given the state of the local economy and the price of the ticket it was still a strong showing.
A panel of judges including celebrity chefs from around the U.S. and the Caribbean judged the offering of 54 restaurants, caterers, taverns, school food programs and other purveyors of comestibles. Each entrant brought plates of their specialty to be photographed and placed before the judges.
With looks of intense concentration the judges studied, then tasted, each of the dishes in their area of specialty and rated them.
At one point judge Merlin Verier, executive chef at Chicago’s Grahamwich and a culinary consultant in the city, looked up and told another judge that the biscuit he was eating was "the best I’ve ever had." Word of that comment brought smiles to the crew from the Blue Water Terrace, which had served them up.
One winner was a new eatery on the Christiansted boardwalk, John Eddie’s Lowlife Bar and Refuge. Jesse Card created an award-winning beverage he calls the Bonfire Old Fashioned. His secret ingredient is smoke.
He mixed Cruzan Rum with mango and pineapple juice, and then blew smoke into the concoction, which lent a noticeable bite to the drink.
The winners of the event were:
Appetizers: First place, The Galleon; second, Pirate’s Tavern; third, Beachside Cafe.
Entrees: First, The Galleon; second, Tavern 1844; third, Carambola Golf Club.
Soup/Stew: First place, Palms at Pelican Cove; second (tie) Reminisce Restaurant and H2) Hibiscus Resort; third, Schooner Bay Marketplace.
Dessert: First place, Pirate’s Tavern; second, St. Croix Central High School Culinary Arts Class; third, Starfish Patisserie.
Local fare: First place, Ridge to Reef Farm; second, Savant, third, Tutto Bene.
Vegetarian: St. Croix Central High School Cooking Class; second, Rowdy Joe’s Northside Eatery; third, St. Croix Central High School Culinary Arts Class.
Beverage: First place, John Eddie’s Lowlife Bar and Refuge; second, Country Snack Stand; third place, VLP Enterprises.
Best Presentation: Tutto Bene; runner-up, Schooner Bay Marketplace Catering.
People’s Choice: Rum Runners and Carambola Golf Club.