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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: 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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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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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: 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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NEWS: Hot Pot BBQ is now open on Fowler Avenue and serving unlimited hot pot and Korean BBQ

Update: The owners of Nine Spices Hot Pot in St. Petersburg have reached out to clarify that they are not affiliated with the Hot Pot BBQ spot on Fowler. The business licenses were strangely similar.

The rumor mill has been swirling for quite some time, but now Hot Pot BBQ is now open to the public.

Diners can enjoy unlimited hot pot and Korean BBQ for around $30. The option to exclude bbq will save you a few bucks, but I don’t suggest doing that.

I stopped by for a visit earlier this week and tried the Korean BBQ and hot pot and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was. The quality of the meat and seafood were far superior to competitors throughout the Tampa Bay area and although the prices are a little higher than Izziban BBQ in Orlando, I do think the higher price-point is worth it.

The quality of the spicy pork belly cut and bulgogi was noticeably great. The Korean BBQ grills cooked the meat cuts quickly and efficiently. The restaurant offers butter to grease the surface. Hot Pot offers your standard lettuce wraps available and side veggies to add to your meats. I highly recommend the Korean BBQ at Hot Pot BBQ.

The seafood selection was also satisfactory and on-par with popular hot pot places in Orlando and St. Petersburg with crawfish, squid, clams, mussels, fish balls, and more. The broths for the hot pot are a little on the blander-side, but you can easily spice it up with their sauces and side offerings including heaping of garlic and cilantro.

Veggies, fruits, and desserts rotate around the restaurant on a conveyor belt that is similar to many modern Asian eateries around the country. Diners can simply pick up anything they like to eat and add it to their food. Some things we enjoyed were the cake desserts, oranges, instant ramen, dumplings, and more.

Beware that there is a fee for those who do not finish their food that is marked at $13.99 and a 2 hour limit for enjoying the buffet.

I recommend Hot Pot BBQ and suggest you give it a look if you’re interested in trying something new in Tampa. Soon Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE will also be joining this area. The winner, of course, is diners in Tampa.

Restaurant Name: Boil Spot Hot Pot BBQ

Neighborhood: Uptown, USF

Cuisine: Hot Pot, Korean BBQ

Address: 1120 E Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33612

Phone: (813) 374-9947

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NEWS: LPCX Latin Cafe Bakery closing doors on November 9th in Tampa

LPCX announced today on Instagram that they will close their doors starting end of the day Saturday, November 9th until further notice as they work out what is next for their business.

The cafe has been known to serve great coffee drinks and beautiful latte art so it is certainly a loss for Tampa’s coffee community.

They were recently featured on That’s So Tampa’s 3 hidden coffee shops you need to visit. Unfortunately – it may have been too late to change the trajectory for the LCPX Cafe. Make sure you stop by for a last cup of joe if you have a chance.

La Pequeña Colombia ​will remain open across the street.

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NEWS: Busch Gardens Christmas Town returns to Tampa November 16th

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Busch Gardens Christmas Town will return to Tampa on Saturday, November 16th, 2019 and run through Monday, January 6th, 2020.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town schedule
Snow Princess at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

The annual award-winning event that celebrates the holiday season has some new additions this year:

  • The Most Wonderful Time: Enjoy a classy Christmas soirée with jazzy piano solos, a live band and heart-melting vocal performances.
  • The Holiday Sing-Along Train: This season, the park’s classic steam engine has a merry makeover, including more lights than ever. One of the most popular things to do has been updated for 2019.
  • Merry Mint Lane: Park guests can enjoy a close look at penguins and other animal ambassadors at the Animal Care Center. The area’s festive makeover includes photo opportunities with new Peppermint Pals, tasty treats and more.
  • Sugar Plum Princess: Joining the Ice Princess and Poinsettia Princess, a new Sugar Plum Princess will greet guests near Sultan’s Sweets candy shop.
  • Pumpkin Thrill Shakes: It’s not really fall or winter without pumpkin and Busch Gardens has added it to the line-up for their Christmas Town samplers.
  • Breakfast with Elmo & Friends: Families can enjoy hugs and high fives from their favorite Sesame Street friends as they celebrate the holidays with family-friendly eats at Dragon Fire Grill. Available select dates in November and December, space is limited and reservations are encouraged.
  • Taste of the Holidays Buffet: Guests can enjoy the views of Serengeti Plain and Cobra’s Curse, while feasting on holiday favorites at the park’s historic Serengeti Overlook Restaurant. This new buffet menu features returning classic favorites, like house-signature fried chicken and pumpkin cheesecake.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer

For more information visit Christmas Town online at seaworldentertainment.com/christmastown/.

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NEWS: Red, White, and Brew this Saturday, November 9th at WestShore Plaza

Celebrate Veteran’s Day weekend at WestShore Plaza this Saturday, November 9th, 2019 from 3PM-8PM. Food trucks will be present including Vanchetta Food Truck, Jazzybgrille, and Mr. C’s Grilled Cheese. The event is free to attend and family-friendly.

Craft beer samples will be served from Coppertail Brewing Co. and 3 Daughters Brewing. Live music will be provided by The Petty Hearts & Fast4Ward on the Morgan Exteriors Stage.

Parents can enjoy a free kids area presented by Mathnasium.

Proceeds will benefit The Stano Foundation. The mission of The Stano Foundation is “to support our Armed Forces and Veterans through project based initiatives focused on enhancing their comfort and quality of life with a piece of home.”

Event Name: Red, White, & Brew

Venue: WestShore Plaza

Address: 250 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, FL 33609

Date & Time: Saturday, November 9th, 2019, 3PM-8PM

Cost: Free to attend

Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/434775030415032/

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NEWS: Whiskey Foxtrot this weekend at Epicurean Hotel Tampa – SOLD OUT!

The third annual Whiskey Foxtrot Tasting is this weekend at the Epicurean Hotel in South Tampa. Events are running most of week starting on Wednesday, November 6th. This year’s event is a celebration of women in whiskey.

Featured women include:

  • Nicole Austin, George Dickel Master Distiller
  • Erin Yesser, Edrington Ambassador
  • Natalia Cardenas, Woodford Reserve Ambassador
  • Jill Boyd, Compass Box Whisky Maker
  • Ingrid Rodriguez, WhistlePig Regional Manager and Steward of the Brand
  • Andrea Wilson, Michter’s Master of Maturation
  • Shayna Kaufman, Brown-Forman Brand Ambassador

Guests will sample more than 200 whiskeys and bites presented by some of Tampa’s top restaurants including Bern’s Steak House, Elevage, Big Ray’s Fish Camp, Nebraska Mini-Mart, Forbici, and more.

If you love whiskey, this event is one of the best ones I have ever had the chance to attend and highly recommend fans to watch.

Tickets are SOLD OUT. General Admission tickets are $95 per person and VIP is $175 per person. VIP includes an hour of early access and access to exclusive bottles, as well as a VIP cocktail lounge located at the EDGE rooftop bar with music, a cigar rolling station, and new this year – a Whiskey & Chocolate Lounge in the Epicurean Theatre.

Themed dinners from whiskey partners are also sold out. If you missed your chance to get tickets this year, make sure you grab them next year.

Event proceeds and opportunities to win will benefit Operation First ResponseJackson In Action 83 Foundation, and Southeastern Guide Dogs through the Laxer Family Foundation.

More information is available at whiskeytampafoxtrot.com