Pinellas County hopes to join the top ranks of food and wine festivals next fall, with help from a major local employer and a grant from the BP oil spill settlement fund.
The Pinellas festival will feature HSN's stable of celebrity chefs working with locally-produced seafood. It is tentatively scheduled for November, with the working title "Eat St. Pete."
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater director D.T. Minich said the combination of tourism and seafood won a $500,000 grant from the BP reparations fund, the maximum amount allowed. The food and wine festival will get $350,000 of that grant.
"Culinary is big, it's hot right now," Minich said, noting the proliferation of cooking shows and channels. "You know we want to be a part of that."
Cooking shows and tourism target the same demographic: Working mothers in their 40s.
Minich predicted the star power offered by HSN will propel the Pinellas festival into the ranks of festivals in New York, Miami's South Beach and California's Napa Valley.
New York-based Karlitz & Company will produce the event. Karlitz already produces the Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival, the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival and The Chocolate Show.
Spokespersons for HSN and Karlitz were not available for comment Tuesday. One source close to the planning process said a steering committee meeting will be held in a couple of weeks.
The balance of the BP grant bought Pinellas an episode of "Emeril's Florida," a TV show featuring some of the state's destinations and local restaurants as seen through the eyes of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Minich said it is all part of a new marketing effort.
"We've done a good job establishing [Pinellas] as a great beach destination, over the last four or five years we've really established ourselves as an arts and culture destination, and so the next big thing on the radar is culinary," Minich said.
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