Talk about the birth of an event. Back in 2000, founders Katherine Pugliese and Kelly Odom began brainstorming the details of a gathering that would become the premiere showcase of St. Croix food and wine offerings. “We were pregnant and hormonal,” Pugliese explained with a laugh, reminiscing about the start of the Taste of St. Croix. “You know how they say you get into that nesting mode when you’re pregnant? Instead, we got into event planning.” Both friends and restaurateurs, Pugliese and Odom wanted to create an experience that would bring the island’s restaurant and retail community together, in addition to supporting the St. Croix Foundation, a local organization that had begun the arduous task of re-energizing the face of the island. “They were doing a lot of wonderful downtown rejuvenation – lighting, police training – things that really affected our businesses.”
Nearly fifteen years later, the Taste of St. Croix has become the shining star in a week of island events now touted as the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience. Featuring a theme of Farm, Food & Philanthropy, this year’s lineup included a Gourmet Vintner Dinner at Tutto Bene with Washington D.C. chef Todd Gray and his sommelier wife, Ellen Kassoff Gray; a “Food Fight” on the beach at Eat@Cane Bay with guest chefs Paula DaSilva, Josef DeSimone, Mike Lata, and Simon Stojanovic; a chef in the school afternoon where chef Gray demonstrated recipes for St. Croix students while discussing his participation in First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” program; a Sunset BBQ on the Frederiksted Pier; and the traditional Wine in the Warehouse closing event.
“We’re blown away [by how much the event has grown],” Pugliese noted. “Between the bands, volunteers, ROTC, security, and attendees, we have about 3000 guests, plus fifty restaurants, chefs, caterers, farmers, and six wine distributors. St. Croix is a really unique community. I don’t think this event could happen on St. Thomas or St. John. St. Croix is just different.”
With the extraordinary quality of food and drink presented at this year’s event, it seems Forbes Travel was ahead of the game when it named the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience to its list of Ten Best International Food and Wine Festivals in 2009.
Be sure to catch my feature on The Secret of St. Croix as well. Many thanks to all involved with the festival – it has certainly become one of my favorites.
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender
**I was oh-so-grateful to visit St. Croix as part of a press familiarization trip hosted by the USVI Department of Tourism.**