CLEARWATER BEACH — The 2014 Evening with the Chefs treated roughly 400 guests to a night of food, fun and charity last Thursday at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach.
The event featured a variety of creations from nine of the Tampa Bay area’s premier chefs, assisted by culinary students from Pinellas County high schools.
Now a highly anticipated production, the Evening with the Chefs originated in 2006 and is now the featured event of The Ryan Wells Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Ryan Wells was a Tarpon Springs High School student who aspired to become a profession chef but passed away in the summer of 2005.
Wells’ family created the foundation with the goal of helping other Pinellas County high school culinary and hospitality students fulfill their dreams of success in the field. In conjunction with the Ryan Wells Golf Classic, at Innisbrook Golf Resort and Spa, the foundation has presented more than 90 scholarships and those funds combined with other donations to high school culinary programs total more than $800,000.
“The highlight of the night for us is when we’re up there getting to award the scholarships,” said Mike Wells, Ryan’s father and the foundation’s president. “They come up there with tears in their eyes. And our goal now is to make sure they get through (their schooling).”
Scholarships and donations benefit Pinellas County high school students at Dixie Hollins, Northeast, Osceola and Tarpon Springs, as well as Clearwater and St. Petersburg Pinellas Technical Education Centers.
Guests attending last Thursday’s semi-formal event began the evening with hors d’oeuvres prepared by student chefs while mingling about and browsing a wide assortment of sports memorabilia, jewelry and gift packages that would later be auctioned away.
When entree and dessert stations opened, attendees discovered a wealth of menu items, including tuna ceviche, Kobe flat iron steak and deconstructed Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. The desserts were black and white eclairs or salted caramel gelato.
A live auction followed the food and drinks, and the event wrapped up with the presentation of this year’s 10 student scholarship winners.
“What we’re able to do for the students is the most important thing,” Mike Wells said. “It’s a pretty special moment.”