The Westin’s elaborate dessert display at Flavors 2009.
With so many exciting restaurants on St. John, the hardest part about dining out is often simply choosing where to go.
For one night in November, however, discerning diners can enjoy the best of what popular eateries like La Tapa, Fish Trap, Happy Fish, La Plancha del Mar, Waterfront Bistro and more have to offer, all under one roof.
The annual Rotary Club of St. John Flavors fundraiser brings out the top island chefs as they hope to impress the judges with their cuisine. The event is set for Saturday, November 13, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Westin Resort and Villas.
Last year’s Flavors drew a record 400 guests and netted about $17,000 for Rotary’s scholarship fund. This year organizers are taking what worked last year and making the night even better — by pushing the date up two weeks, moving the venue inside and adding a few new categories for the hotly-contested “Best Of” Flavors awards.
“This year Flavors is November 13, two weeks earlier than we usually host it, and we did that for a few different reasons,” said Katherine Steinborn, Rotary member and executive chairperson of Flavors. “First of all we wanted to make it easier on the restaurants that take part.”
The event is usually hosted the week of Thanksgiving, the first busy week of the high season, explained Steinborn, who is organizing the event along with co-chairperson Paul Kessock, of West Indies Ltd.
“Having Flavors the week before Thanksgiving is usually a really big push for the restaurants,” she said. “We really wanted to honor the food industry, so we moved the date up two weeks. Without the restaurants there wouldn’t be a Flavors.”
While Steinborn heard rave reviews of last year’s Flavors, one complaint was echoed as well, she explained.
“We host the event under tents on the grounds of the Westin each year and it’s always really hot,” said Steinborn. “I remember even before I was a part of Rotary and organizing the event, I thought it would be a really cool event if it wasn’t so hot. So this year we’ve moving it inside to air conditioned ballrooms.”
Also new this year are two additional “Best Of” categories. Best bar food and best mixologist will join best appetizer, best entree, best desert and the crowd-chosen best overall presentation.
The guys at La Plancha del Mar, who won last year’s best dessert for their waffle brownie, will be back to defend their title this year.
Happy Fish, which won best appetizer last year, is expected to return to the competition again this year along with best entree winner Rhumb Lines.
There will be a new best overall presentation winner this year, since last year’s winner, Paradiso, has closed its doors.
The new categories were added this year in an effort to draw even more participants to the event, according to Steinborn.
“We’ve added two new categories, best bar food and best mixologist,” she said. “We really want this to be a community function where everyone gets involved. We really don’t want just the high-end restaurants to take part.”
“We want the servers and bartenders and the chefs out there who are making great bar food to show off their stuff,” Steinborn said.
With so much amazing food to sample, guests will have to look no further than West Indies Ltd.’s table for the perfect vintage with which to wash it all down. While the distributor is an annual sponsor of the event, this year West Indies’ Kessock is bringing along some people who know their wine well — the wine makers themselves.
“This year West Indies is going to bring wine makers to the event and they’re going to pour their wines,” said Steinborn. “So what you’re going to have this year is as many wines as we have food. In the past we’ve had one or two wines, but this year it’s really going to be a food and wine event.”
West Indies will also make some enticing offers available to Flavors-goers, Steinborn added.
“If you like something you taste that night, they are going to offer discounts on the purchase of the wine,” she said.
The winning restaurants are chosen by celebrity judges who usually are presented with each course at a special table. This year, the judges’ identities are being kept secret from both the crowd and the restaurants, explained Steinborn.
“We have guest chefs coming in from St. Croix and Puerto Rico, but they won’t be identified and sitting at a separate table or something,” said the event organizer. “They’ll be sampling the food just like we will be. So restaurants will have to put out their best tastes all night long, instead of preparing something special for the judges.”
In addition to the new categories and a new venue, Steinborn is also ramping up the silent auction part of the night, she added.
“This is a fundraiser and 100 percent of the money goes to sending a local youth to college,” said Steinborn. “In the past we’ve always been able to send at least one student to college. We want to make the silent auction bigger and better because we want to be able to send two kids to college.”
Steinborn is accepting donations for the silent auction and it’s not too late for restaurants to still enter the competition. Tickets are $100 at the door and $95 in advance, but people who work in the hospitality industry will get an even bigger discount of $75, Steinborn added.
“We really want to get the young people out there and especially the young people who work in the food industry,” she said. “We want to honor what they’re doing and make it more affordable for them to come.”
Tickets are available at Connections, Chelsea Drug Store, Mongoose Junction Activities Desk, the Information Booth at The Marketplace and from Rotary Club members. For more information or to donate to the silent auction call Steinborn at KatiLady Events at 693-8500.