PHOTOS: Taste of Collier attracts thousands

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— Like many of the thousands of people who flocked to Sunday’s Taste of Collier gourmet festival at Bayfront Naples, Steve and Kathy Thomson had their route mapped out.

“We’re going to eat until we get to the other side,” Steve Thomson said with a chuckle, adding that the couple’s budget limit for the afternoon would be “until we’re full.”

Nearly three dozen restaurants served up their finest fare for the masses, who enjoyed everything from sliced, medium rare tenderloin, to grilled swordfish with rice pilaf, to wood grilled Szechwan spiced baby back pork ribs.

It was the second day in as many to break the 90-degree temperature mark, but a blustery wind provided natural air-conditioning by wafting through the surrounding buildings.

Pinchers Crab Shack sous chef Bryan Mauro said his 90 percent pure crab meat cakes were going gangbusters, while A.J. Blakely and Julian Giraldo of Longhorn Steakhouse were kept heads down by the demand for their shaved prime rib sandwiches, grilled shrimp and strawberry salad.

Kitchen manager Pete Seitz said he’d initially brought in about 300 pounds of shaved prime rib, but that by around 1 p.m. he’d had to send out a call for more.

Likewise for Patrick Osthoff of Flemings Steak House. He estimated that by day’s end, he and his team would have served about 500 pounds — a quarter of a ton — of sliced tenderloin, seared on the outside and pink in the middle.

The Dickerson family made a day of it, with mom Rebecca, dad Bradley toddler Timothy and baby Winston tucking into whatever grabbed their fancies.

Bradley Dickerson said they’d probably spend about $30 to $40 dollars on sampling, and would likely be eating leftovers at home for supper.

Ice sculptors Bill Ervin and Rob De Fransceso were big drawing cards as they rendered blocks of ice into works of art with whizzing chain saws.

De Francesco, who is executive chef at Worthington Country Club, said the sculptures would probably last about two hours in the midday heat before melting into puddles and evaporating.

The day’s indulgences had a serious side to them, however.

Along with beneficiaries the American Red Cross and Pro-Start Culinary Arts & Hospitality Progams, is St. Matthews House.

“Our main mission is to provide shelter for the homeless,” said director of ministries and programs Michael Vallee. “At the moment we have 900 homeless adults and 400 homeless children, and with people losing their jobs, we’re seeing more families coming in here and to the Immokalee Friendship House.”

Vallee said St. Matthew’s House provides about 200 volunteers to help at the Taste of Collier, doing everything from ticket sales, to distributing arm bands to emptying garbage cans.

Besides the main attraction of exotic and assorted munchies, the day also featured the Bayfront Boat Show, student fruit carving sessions, live pop and rock music, chef demonstrations and live auctions geared to resort and golf packages.

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