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Tampa Chef Rosana Rivera successfully ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ on Food Network

Tampa Chef Rosana Rivera made history as the first Latina woman to beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network on December 26th, 2019. She first beat her husband and business partner, Chef Ricardo Castro, in an elimination round before Bobby Flay using the papaya secret ingredient on a special episode called “It Must’ve Been Love”.

Bobby Flay has a fairly high win-ration that is over 60% of his competitions so this is no small victory for Chef Rosana Rivera.

The dish that beat Bobby Flay. Chef Rosana Rivera’s classic empanadas. Photo Credit: BKN Creative

Chef Rosana Rivera beat Bobby Flay with her beef empanada recipe. Flay had equipment malfunctions during the battle and a track record of empanada fails.

“This experience has been one of the highlights of my year. I feel super proud as a Female Chef, Entrepreneur, Puerto Rican, and Tampanian to have had the honor to not only participate in Beat Bobby Flay but to have competed against Ricardo, my other half in business and life. Ricardo is a Chef that has my utmost admiration. Most importantly, competing against Iron Chef Bobby Flay is an experience I will never forget. I have a deep respect for his talent, charisma, and the amazing team that works with him. It is an honor that I was able to cook side by side with him, compete against him, and can proudly say I Beat Bobby Flay,” said Chef Rosana on her win.

The couple previously owned the French-inspired bakery Piquant and are currently proprietors of Xilo at The Hall on Franklin in Tampa. The Chefs also own R2 Provisions, a national catering company, and a gourmet food truck. Additionally, they also own Kofe, The Hall on Franklin’s in-house coffee bar.

You can watch the episode on the Food Network’s website here: http://watch.foodnetwork.com/tv-shows/beat-bobby-flay/full-episodes/it-mustve-been-love

Chef Rosana Rivera has shared her beef empanada recipe with us. Disclaimer: This recipe is not to be shared without the author’s permission. Chef Rosana can be reached at chefrosanarivera@gmail.com.

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NEWS: Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE now open to the public

Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE has opened in Temple Terrace just minutes from USF and Tampa’s Uptown just in time for Christmas. It joins the nearby Hot Pot BBQ on Fowler Avenue as one of many new Asian businesses to the area.

It is located at 11301 North 56th Street Temple Terrace, FL 33617. Yum Yum is open from 4PM-11PM from Sunday to Thursday and from 4PM to midnight on Friday and Saturday. 

Customers choose their hot pot soup base, custom dipping sauces, and food from the conveyor belt to cook in their soup. There is a 2 hour time limit for all-you-can-eat. Adult AYCE costs $25.99 and kids (age 4-10) are $15.99.

Bases include:

  • Original Soup (Pork Bones)
  • Spicy Soup – Szechuan style
  • Tomato Soup
  • Mushroom Soup
  • Tom Yum Goong Soup – Thai style
  • Creamy Butter Soup

Here are some photos from the restaurant:

Find out more information at their website yumyumhotpotayce.com.

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Articles Reviews

Film Review: The Rise of Skywalker was great, actually

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

As the internet battles over whether The Last Jedi was the best way for the series to go (nearly 2 years later), The Rise of Skywalker has finally hit theaters and ended the 9 movie Star Wars series. There were ups and there were downs, but the battle between Jedi and Sith has come to a close.

J.J. Abrams brought a thoughtful conclusion to the series that wrapped up most loose-ends and provided closure on a number of pressing questions, while still leaving some storylines wide-open for any future adaptations or side stories. The ride to the end was an emotional one that Rey (Daisy Ridley) played well. I felt the emotions take over me numerous times as she struggled with her final mission.

The original Star Wars trilogy was a story of family and friendship. The bond between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo is found in the new cast and despite being sent on different paths in The Last Jedi, its comforting to see the gang join back up for the last battle against the dark side.

The Last Jedi actually did a good job of helping Finn and Rey grow into their new personas and J.J. Abrams did a great job of working in what happened in TLJ into The Rise of Skywalker instead of completely undoing what happened in the last installment, like Rian Johnson did to The Force Awakens. The continuity issues created in the last movie create a time crunch that does make the movie a non-stop action and emotion journey, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Critics pan this as a move to undo what Johnson did in the prior installment, which they found to be a breath of fresh air from light saber battles and space battles, but that’s what Star Wars is. People complaining about Jedis and light sabers should probably find another movie to watch in their free time like Knives Out.

Star Wars has a loyal fan base that Lucasfilm massively upset in the prior installment that set Jedi trees on fire and brought Yoda in to tell fans to shut up and let their childhoods go. Disney decided to reverse course after Solo bombed at the box office and go back to the fans and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Star Wars is a Skywalker family story. From Anakin Skywalker to Ben Solo, they are the fabric and lore that make Star Wars core. The Rise of Skywalker rightfully celebrates that with an all-star ensemble from the past and further pushes the new cast into their future.

There are parallels to the past, but also notable changes that show growth and change in the force. I was most impressed again with Kylo Ren or Ben Solo. He went from a spoiled brat in the first movie to someone I could finally empathize with. His tragic circumstances and lonely life are far from the direct family he comes from, but well-connected to his grandfather Anakin Skywalker who shamefully destroyed all the love and family he had in his life trying to save his love. Ben makes a different choice and the galaxy is better for it.

Throughout all of The Rise of Skywalker, life and death are constantly in the balance. The Star Destroyer kill machines destroy entire planets, while the cast all fight for their own survival in one way or another. Not everyone is victorious, but despite all the challenges, what the audience gets is a true story that has a beginning, middle, and end. That was no easy task for someone handed a story where everything means nothing and all the meaning from the first part of the trilogy was erased, but J.J. Abrams successfully delivered that.

In a way the movie does feel like all the fan predictions come to life in one way or another (minus the Jar Jar Binks is Snoke theory), but all the processes that lead there make sense from a story telling point of view and are explained in ways that are both reasonable and rational.

In contrast, the prior installment was often irrational and threw complete chaos into the trilogy. Some people may view that as art, but it is actually just bad storytelling. The blame for this mostly rests on Lucasfilm who did not creatively control the projects and allowed them to spin out of control. That’s the only local explanation for having Snoke introduced a villain and somehow ending with Palpatine as the big bad guy (non-fans probably don’t even know who he is).

The explanation of Palpatine as the bad force that existed all along makes sense to anyone who has ever finished a long series in an anime, where the big bad is actually just reincarnations of prior villains – the dark energy is just moving between bodies and constantly coming to kill off the heroes until it is finally vanquished. Palpatine is both creepy and convincing as an all powerful bad guy. When he first appeared I was shook.

It would have been easy to just turn Kylo Ren into a loyal and submissive Vader clone, but his constant resistance against any form of control is refreshing. Kylo Ren is complex, but Ben Solo’s love for his mother is something that anyone can relate it. One of the moments in the Last Jedi that most struck me was the hesitation Kylo showed before his mother’s ship was destroyed. It was very human, no matter how strained we always feel a bond to the woman who gave birth to us. Kylo always felt beyond redemption or saving, but it was his mothers love that eventually led him to the light within in the Rise of Skywalker. Its in the nature of mothers to love their sons no matter what, and Leia spent her whole life believing in her son. That was very real.

Rey on the other hand is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker and is quite naive, but her friends and experiences help to strengthen her and make her a much more cunning person. She is the ultimate hero, willing to sacrifice anything to save her friends, but also wanting love, a family, and home.

Luke and Leia both take Rey under their wing throughout this trilogy and the ending of this movie so perfectly shows that family is the people that love you, not necessarily your blood. Rey’s loneliness in The Force Awakens and her timeless friendships and love at the end of The Rise of Skywalker show strong character development, growth, and a story well told. She has changed completely by the end and anyone who watched all three will feel that journey.

The Rise of Skywalker is also filled with plenty of laughs thanks to C-3PO, Poe Dameron, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and others in the cast. Although the storyline is very serious, it never becomes too serious to handle and the constant action helps to keep the movie from becoming too dramatic as well.

Although the movie is 142 minutes, they mostly breeze by and that is hard to say about many movies nowadays that waste time with pointless scenes and backstories that nobody wants to watch. The Rise of Skywalker is well-edited and seamlessly moves from one scene to the next. The Last Jedi noticeably wasted time with a ridiculous and laughably bad no fuel space chase as well as missions gone wrong with Poe, Rose, and Finn.

I personally would have loved some more scenes between Rey and Finn, its understandable that their paths are fundamentally different though. The Rise of Skywalker never fails to remind us that Rey is very important to Finn though and so is the force and resistance. This movie is about a war that has wrecked the lives of many including the main cast and the battle comes first.

Personally, I’ll go back to watch The Rise of Skywalker again and again. It’s a fitting ending for the series. Fans and critics can battle online, but there’s no denying that the laughably badly acted prequels have nothing on this trilogy that found its footing in the end.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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NEWS: Armature Works hosting free viewing party for Downtown Tampa Lighted Boat Parade

Armature Works continues to celebrate the holidays by offering a free viewing party for the Downtown Tampa Lighted Boat Parade on Saturday, December 21st, 2019 from 6:30PM to 9:30PM.

The free event will take place on the Riverfront Lawn just south of Armature Works along the Hillsborough River.

The annual parade has become one of Tampa’s signature holiday events featuring hundreds of festive aquatic vessels as the make their way down the Hillsborough River.

Guests are welcome to bring lawn chairs and blankets. The event is also pet-friendly.

Note: outside food, drinks, and coolers are not permitted at Armature Works.

Parking: Parking at Armature Works is free Monday through Thursday and Friday before 4PM, Saturday and Sunday mornings before 11AM. Parking at all other times is $5. In addition, there are over 400 street-side parking spots available. Valet is also available most event nights and weekends. For more information please visit armatureworks.com/parking.

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Articles Events Restaurant News

NEWS: “Love Reimagined” dining pop-up coming to Tampa just in time for Valentine’s 2020

There’s a new installment in an experiential dining series called “The Rooted Door” is coming to Tampa called “LOVE Reimagined”. It aims to be “a fully immersive pop-up that will inspire guests to celebrate the Art of LOVE”.

The pop-up will occur from Tuesday, February 11th to Saturday, Feburary 15th, 2020 (5 nights), just in time for Valentine’s Day week 2020.

The pop-up will occur at Red Door No. 5, in Tampa Heights at 1910 North Florida Avenue. Red Door is one of Tampa’s new destinations for culture and the arts. Originally constructed in 1925 and then was decommissioned as an active fire station in 1986. The building has since been restored.

Popular local chefs, Chef Ferrell Alvarez of Rooster & the Till and Chef Noel Cruz of Ichicoro Ramen, will headline the pop-up. Alvarez and Cruz have opened numerous projects recently around the city and are active participants in local initiatives in Tampa Bay. Chef Ferrell Alvarez is a James-Beard Award nominee.

Guests at the pop-up will walk through different spaces which unveil imaginative cuisine, cocktails, visual and performing arts and take them on a journey of the senses as the space transforms with each course.  Comfortable footwear is recommended.

The pop-up will last approximately 2 hours and reservation times include 6:30PM, 7:30PM, 8:30PM, and 9:30PM. Tickets start at $160 and are now on-sale.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Charlie Hounchell Art Stars Scholarship Award through Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts (TBBCA) to continue nurturing Tampa’s flourishing creative scene and support future creators in the community.

TBBCA has annually awarded six or more scholarships to some of the most talented and deserving Tampa Bay area high school students, providing valuable financial assistance since 2008.

Tickets can be purchased online on Eventbrite: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/love-reimagined-presented-by-the-rooted-door-tickets-85750005575

“Love Reimagined” is being organized by PASK Productions, “an experiential event marketing and branding agency delivers premium services to high-end clientele across the country.”

Their collaborations with brands include Hennessy Cognac, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Gin, Cirque du Soleil, CORZO Tequila , L’OREAL Paris, DUSSE Cognac, OXLEY Gin, ULTRA Music Festival, National Young Arts Foundation, Art Basel, and Beats by Dre among others.

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Articles News Restaurant News

NEWS: Blind Tiger takes over Foundation Coffee spot at Sparkman Wharf Tampa

Foundation Coffee has left Sparkman Wharf after the end of their lease the space is now occupied by Blind Tiger Cafe. Blind Tiger has been rapidly growing in the last two years with new locations in South Tampa, Westchase, WestShore, Downtown Tampa, and now a parcel at Sparkman Wharf.

Foundation Coffee responded to a request for comment: “We could get into a very detailed explanation but suffice to say it was wrong timing for Foundation Coffee. Please join us at our flagship location at 1617 N. Franklin Street in Tampa or our totally outdoor venue at 10020 Carr Rd. In Riverview. Thanks.”

Some of the locations are unconventional and previously were occupied with other coffee companies, for example their recent acquisition at WestShore Plaza replaced Starbucks Coffee. Third wave coffee has been rapidly growing in the past year with Spaddy’s Coffee expanding, Buddy Brew and Kahwa moving into the grocery business, King State opening their first cafe, and a number of new upstarts opening on both sides of Tampa Bay. 

The food hall boom has helped to fuel these expansions across the bay area.

One has to wonder when the market for third wave coffee is going to saturate, but so far it doesn’t seem to be too unstable. There have been a handful of closings including most recently the LCPX Cafe on Armenia Avenue and Mountaineer Coffee in Oldsmar.

Most of popular third wave coffee shops are concentrated in the South Tampa, Downtown Tampa, and Seminole Heights area. It would be interesting to see successful third wave coffee shops in the more scattered parts of town such as in Brandon and Carrollwood which for now just seem to be saturated with Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts locations. 

Blind Tiger opens at Sparkman Wharf in Downtown Tampa on Friday, December 13th, 2019.

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NEWS: Celebrate Christmas Day at Wine Bar George Disney Springs (Orlando)

Wine Bar George located at Disney Springs in Orlando will have Christmas Day offerings to celebrate the occasion this year. Christmas Day is on Wednesday, December 25th this year.

Santa Carota Short Ribs at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs

Guests can enjoy Santa Carota Short Ribs, Red Wine Braised Half Chicken and Chocolate Ginger Cake with house-made peppermint ice cream, alongside select items from their regular menu.

Chocolate Ginger Cake with house-made peppermint ice cream at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs

Choose from 140 wines all available by the glass, bottle, and ounce for the perfect holiday celebration. 

Reservations can be made online at http://winebargeorge.com/events or through Disney Reservations.

Menu:

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Articles Food Events Restaurant News

NEWS: Tampa chefs VS. Bobby Flay airing December 26th on Food Network

Tampa chefs, Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro will take their talent to the masses in America on Thursday, December 26th when they compete on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay”. The chefs currently own Xilo Mexican at The Hall on Franklin and focus on serving fresh Mexican-inspired cuisine. I stopped by last weekend to sit down with Chef Castro and discuss how they got here and where they are going.

Chef Rivera and Castro are best known for their past project called Piquant, a popular French bakery concept that was located first in Hyde Park Village and then West Tampa. The project was supplying the Tampa Bay area with fresh breads and pastries and certainly a local pioneer in that space where French bakeries are far and few between.

Their Kouign-Amann was a personal favorite and when I went west to San Francisco, I was amazed and how the ideas that Rivera and Castro brought to Tampa Bay area are so huge out there and still mostly unknown out here. Piquant went through various cycles, but was ultimately closed much to my dismay.

When Chef Rivera and Chef Castro opened Xilo at Hall on Franklin, I wasn’t sure what inspired the move to Mexican cuisine. Castro explained to me that the idea to make Mexican food came from their unique past. Castro was trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City and he volunteered at a church where he was trained on Mexican sauces and cuisine.

Rivera previously worked for a corporation that regularly flew her around Mexico and exposed her to many of the regional cuisines of the area. When deciding on a concept, Mexican came to them as something both different for the area and something that they could both uniquely bring to the table.

Slowly the chefs have added items to the menu that are representative of their love for Mexican cuisine including brunch options such as chilaquiles. They are one of the only vendors that are open during breakfast at the food hall.

When the chefs entered Hall on Franklin they also took control of the Kofe Tampa shop and have slowly moved into coffee as a business, with prior experience selling their own proprietary roasted blend at their bakery. Soon they will move toward plans to provide their coffee on a bigger scale with a more wholesale focus.

Their coffee can best be described as a truly Latin roast with bold espresso flavors.

The future may hold more restaurant locations in the Tampa Bay area, although the chefs are still considering potential locations across the state of Florida. They are well-traveled and have received much of their inspiration from past culinary projects and mentors. Hopefully their love for baking will also be a part of these next moves.

One thing that is clear is that both these chefs are passionate about food and are passionate about baking. Their debut on the Food Network is a great win for Tampa and also for themselves. Latinx representation is still lacking on Food Network and in the food industry in general.

Let’s hope they can beat Bobby Flay. Catch Chef Rosana Rivera and Chef Ricardo Castro on Food Network at 10:30PM EST on Thursday, December 26th. Free tickets are available to their watch party on Eventbrite that will run from 8:30PM to 11:30PM at Hall on Franklin.

Xilo Mexican. The Hall on Franklin. 1701 N Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602.

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Articles cocktails Food Events

Celebrate 10 years of USBG Tampa Bay's Repeal Day Gala on December 7th

The end of Prohibition (December 5th, 1933) has always been an important moment in the cocktail industry and this year marks 10 years that the U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG) Tampa Bay has celebrated the occasion with their Repeal Day Gala.

This year’s gala will happen on Saturday, December 7th at The Cuban Club.

The theme is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, an event that fell on the centennial anniversary of the city’s birth. The fair was about looking into the future of the world.

The event has grown from 35 people gathered in the Don Vicente Hotel’s basement speakeasy to a multi-floor event at The Cuban Club in Historic Ybor City.

Over the past three years, an average of 700 guests have been in attendance. Organizers share, “2019 is looking to be our fairest and most spectacular gala ever.”

The event is not only a gala for industry personnel and industry leaders in the cocktail world, Repeal Day now includes an educational component with seminars days before the party. Speakers from all over the nation come to enlighten others with their experiences and knowledge.

Tickets are available now and start at $100. Discounts are available for USBG members with proof of membership. They can be purchased online at EventBrite: http://bit.ly/2P5EKs2

The official website is located to at repealdayparty.com.

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Council Oak Steaks & Seafood offers diners a ‘social hour’ worth trying

Full disclosure: I was invited to Council Oak Steaks & Seafood for a media dinner where food was served complimentary. These opinions are my own and do not reflect Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Tampa is a happy hour town. You can wander to most bars and find a decent happy hour menu with cheeses, small bites, and discounted cocktails on any given day of the week. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa is doing things are little differently at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood.

Instead of offering heavily discounted appetizers with tiny bites, Council Oak has opted instead to provide diners with shareable entries that offer complexity in flavors that you might not find anywhere else in Tampa. The price points will run anywhere from $10 to $40 depending on the item.

The most noticeable item on the menu, which occurs daily from 3PM-6PM for a limited time, is the Japanese Wagyu Carpaccio ($15). I am a fan of beef carpaccio in general, but the bold flavors of the wagyu on top of a crostini is not to be missed. The heavy flavors of the meats on the menu almost ensures you are going to want beer or a cocktail to wash down your food and luckily they have provided some great choices.

During my visit I had the Vina Cobos Felino Malbec ($12) which was a great red to pair with the meat dishes, especially the Council Oak Prime Burger ($22), rich with flavor and an egg with yolk that will run all over your tongue. The portion is generous, but the price certainly makes this something you want to share. The added truffle fries are just another layer in a meal that will most certainly be a pleasant trip for diners.

The Council Oak Bacon ($14), aged in-house, is for true believers only. Four thick slabs of bacon will arrive on your table with a tiny side salad. The balsamic reduction will perfectly complement the fatty pork in your mouth. It reminds me of a millionaire’s bacon, but more refined.

For those looking for something on the lighter side, there is the Council Oak House Salad ($11). This salad features salami, prosciutto, bacon, tomatoes, egg, mozzarella, and house dressing. It is an excellent salad and perfect with some wine. The tomatoes and dried egg yolk on top is my favorite part. The salami is also excellent and noticeably not too salty.

There are several other options on the social hour menu such as Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Tuna Tartare, Caesar Salad, a N.Y. Strip Steak Sandwich, and a Beef Tenderloin, but personally I wanted to experience things I can’t find anywhere else. I would still be interested in trying them in the future though after seeing how masterfully everything was served at Council Oak for social hour.

Social Hour at Council Oak Steaks & Seafood offers excellent options that can be shared by diners before a night on the town. The elegant environment of the bar complements the menu that seems to have been carefully planned. I recommend stopping by soon to try it.

Restaurant Name: Council Oak Steaks & Seafood

Venue: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tampa

Address: 5223 Orient Rd, Tampa, FL 33610

Phone Number: (813) 627-7600

Website: http://www.seminolehardrocktampa.com/dining/fine-dining/council-oak-steaks-and-seafood