Like any self-respecting business, we love to see our name pop up all over the place, whether it’s on an advertising billboard or in an article in the national press. But we never thought we’d have a namesake cow—yet thanks to a story in this Food and Wine Annual, now we do.
Our little Sara Sota was born on the rolling green pastures of Al and Erin Rosas’ idyllic 85-acre farm just outside of Ocala on the day our crew was shooting a story there about the couple’s grass-fed beef. More than farmers, the Rosas are master chefs and nationally recognized advocates for the organic lifestyle, traveling around the country to speak about the methods and benefits of raising crops and animals without pesticides, antibiotics or in crowded, inhumane conditions. They’re also beautiful people—with two equally beautiful, home-schooled children—who invited our team to a supper of homemade pasta and meatballs the night before the shoot and greeted them when they arrived before dawn the next day with a spread of fresh, warm breads and pastries.
We learned about the Rosas from Tommy Klauber, who owns Longboat Key’s Pattigeorge’s restaurant. Last September, Klauber traveled to Chile and Argentina, which are famous for their beef. "It’s all grass-fed and it’s the most delicious I’ve ever tasted," he says. When he returned, he began searching for a nearby source of such beef and found the Rosas, who quickly, he says, "became great friends." Now the Rosas supply Pattigeorge’s with grass-fed beef, and Klauber says his customers, who have become increasingly interested in organic eating, especially with the recent food scares, "are crazy about it."
While photographer Mary McCulley roamed the farm, snapping cattle, buffalo and working cowboys, stylist Sharron Fisher set the long, wooden table on the back lawn and copy editor Megan McDonald interviewed the Rosas. Meanwhile, in a nearby meadow, Sara Sota was pushing her way into the world with some help from cowboy Paul, who proudly cradled her in his arms when she finally arrived. By the time guests had arrived for the lunchtime feast, she was standing by her mother without a trace of wobbliness. (And since the Rosas use their females for breeding stock rather than food, she’s destined to live a long and happy life on the farm.)
In this issue, you’ll read more about the Rosas and that festive luncheon—all homemade, organic and "elegant in its simplicity," says Megan, from just-churned butter to a lemon sabayon adapted from a recipe famous restaurateur Thomas Keller gave Al Rosas. The guests lingered long after Mary had put away her camera, sipping wine and enjoying the sweeping view of the hills beyond while a few munching cows watched benevolently, and a black-and-white farm cat searched for scraps under the table.
A few weeks later and much closer to home, we staged another story for this issue—a sunset sushi tasting on the beach in front of the Ritz-Carlton Members Beach Club. We invited eight of the town’s top sushi restaurants to participate and assembled a panel of judges to choose the very best.
We love putting together such ambitious productions, but for a while we wondered if we could pull this one off. When associate food editor Judi Gallagher began calling the restaurants to ask them to participate, she ran into some roadblocks. Some of the Japanese staffers struggled with English; and others, unfamiliar with the idea of an editorial tasting, suspected it was an advertising scheme. And because many are small, family-owned places, some worried about whether they could spare a chef for the event. But Judi, who combines the nurturing warmth of a mother hen with the unstoppable force of a Mack truck, ended up personally visiting every restaurant to explain exactly what was involved and to help them find a way to participate.
It was worth all the effort, she says, when she saw the chefs, most of them Japanese, bowing deeply to each other in the kitchen of the beach club. "Most of them had never been in a contest before, and their pride and respect for each other were overwhelming," she says, Ritz-Carlton executive sous chef John Signorelli, who has lived in Japan and was one of our judges, welcomed them all, first in English and then in Japanese, and the tasting began.
Three hours later, after a never-ending procession of some of the most sensational sushi any of us had ever seen, accompanied by a variety of fine sake, the judges, Judi and I pushed ourselves up from the orange silk cushions in the Zen-like pavilion the Ritz-Carlton had constructed for us down on the beach and trudged slowly—but blissfully—up to our cars. (Look in this issue to see how the restaurants scored.)
You’ll find more culinary bliss in this issue, including food editor Kristine Nickel’s round-up of her favorite new Sarasota restaurants. And Charlie Huisking offers some cultural nourishment, with a report from January’s Sundance Film Festival. Shivering on the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, Huisking saw lots of movies—and movie stars—and watched Sarasota Film Festival head Jody Kielbasa build contacts and support for this month’s festival.
Here’s hoping you find this a delicious issue!