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Stark Raving Wines Presents: The Joel Stein Book Tour and Tampa Bay Food Truck Charity Competition...Where Yours Truly was a Judge!

   Just a couple of weeks ago I scored stardom.  Yes, officially a Tampa celebrity is who I am.  It was only a matter of time until everyone realized just how cool Leslie Floyd is, right?  Okay, all silliness and absolute ridiculousness aside, I did attain a really cool opportunity that allowed me to not only meet an awesomely comical Time magazine columnist but also offered me a position as an official judge for one deliciously indulgent food truck competition. 

     If you were not in Old Hyde Park Village on December 12th, you truly missed out on one of the very best food and wine events (open to all) I have ever been to in Tampa. Time Magazine Columnist, Joel Stein has been traveling the country, promoting his first ever book, Man-Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity and so intelligently made a pit-stop in our humble metropolitan city. Stark Raving Wine presented the event and made their presence known in the park, giving out endless glasses of free…yes, free, wine.  But wait, friends, it only gets better.  In addition to the free wine and Joel Stein meet and greet/book signing, there were also four competing food trucks giving away free full-sized signature dishes to everyone who attended the event.  Free, free, free, yes it is true.  Everything was free!  God, I love that word though I rarely get to use it!  In return for all of this extreme generosity, guests were expected to simply make a donation to the charity of the night: Meals on Wheels Tampa.   

      I know you are just dying to hear my claim to fame already.  Here it is…just a couple days before the event, my friend Megan (I Run For Wine) informed the event’s organizers that there would be three Tampa food bloggers in attendance.  After looking through our blogs, Megan, Blaire (Dreaming Ingredients) and I were all asked to be judges for the food truck competition portion of the evening.  How could we resist?  Standing on stage and talking with the “pee your pants kind of funny,” Joel Stein while grubbing on a smorgasbord of killer cuisine…oh yes, I was flattered and thrilled!

Photo courtesy Blaire, Dreaming Ingredients

    Sipping on whites and reds while looking around at all of the delectable cuisine being forked into strangers’ mouths, I was growing very anxious to fill my belly with some wine sopping goods.  And before I knew it, it was time.  Joel Stein had made the crowd laugh until their full bellies ached.  Guests had consumed plates upon plates of food.  Votes for the best food truck offerings were being submitted by all.  It was time for us judges to call the shots.  As Megan, Blaire and I walked on stage, we were beyond ourselves.  Overwhelmed is an understatement.  The judge’s table was lined with rows of plates filled generously to the edges.  And so it began.  Joel Stein humored us in sarcastic and fun conversation as we gorged…and gorged, and gorged some more. 

      As a non-negotiable competition rule, the food trucks were asked to create a signature dish for the event using Stark Raving Wines. Maggie on the Move, a Mediterranean inspired food truck, prepared Lamb kabobs marinated in Stark Raving Red and glazed with a combination of the Red and Cabernet, served over an asparagus and almond couscous (made with Stark Raving White) along with a Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onions and feta.  The lamb was perfectly tender and boasted rich meatiness.  The couscous and tomato salad balanced out this healthy dish out with fresh, light flavors.  With a sweet treat of luscious baklava made with white wine, I was in flaky pastry heaven.  One of Tampa’s newest food trucks, Maggie on The Move aimed to impress and she most definitely succeeded.  Next!

      I am a pasta fiend.  Lover of a delicious marinara as well, I was pretty giddy about the next dish.  Tasty Stacy, known for her Italian sandwiches and pasta, served up a generous stack of Baked Manicotti made with Stark Raving red.   This New-Jersey native knows her stuffed pasta.  With creamy ricotta and an expertly crafted red sauce, this manicotti was a stellar show-off.  Just when I thought she had outdone herself, I took a bite from the beautiful caprese stack drizzled with a Stark Raving Malbec balsamic reduction.  Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella and perfectly ripe red and yellow tomato paradise right there.  I was about to move onto the next food truck dish until I was informed that the doughy, chocolate chunk mounds that lay before me were a Tasty Stacy dessert finale to her wonderful Italian dinner.  If you told me a scrumptious cookie could be made with wine a month ago, I would’ve laughed at you.  Wow, were these cookies something else.  Ooey Gooey chocolate chunk decadence made my mouth water with each bite.   Did I mention I never have a sweet tooth?  Bravo, Stacy, Bravo. 

    Moving down the line to food truck #3 on the chopping block.  Two Asians and a Grill prepared the sweet and spiced up Korean dish, Bulgogi. Moist and flavorful marinated chopped sirloin was cooked in Stark Raving Cab and sesame oil along with onions, garlic, soy, and sugar and then liberally stuffed into crisp lettuce wraps over rice.  With a spicy sauce for dipping painted on the plate, this dish was as pretty as it was lip-smacking delicious.  Great depth of flavors existed in this seemingly simple Korean classic.  It was getting tougher and tougher to say which dish ranked supreme as they were all executed so well.  Yet, there would have to be a winner.  With one food truck signature dish to devour, we were in for it. 

     Tampa famous food truck, Wicked ‘Wichesjoined in on the competition fun with a collection of their finest hand-held items.  I really didn’t know where to start with their cuisine assortment.  These people are hardly wicked.  Unless of course the word “wicked” is used in its North Eastern form as in “that sandwich is wicked delicious.” My first bite was from their pile of Lobster Poutine made with Stark Raving White.  Think: Lobster bisque covered fries with hunks of Gorgonzola cheese strewn throughout.  Drool-worthy insanity?  Yep.  My next bite was the Mango pulled pork sandwich made with Stark Raving red.  Luscious pork was ever so sweet and succulent piled on a supremely soft bun with creamy and crunchy cabbage as its accomplice.  Last, I took a bite from the Cuban Philly.  Two of the world’s best sandwiches in one…it is just plain Godly.  All of these divine calorie busters were then topped off with a refreshing Blackberry Hibiscus Gourmet Popsicle made with Stark Raving Malbec. 

Photo courtesy I Run For Wine

      Holding my belly in half regret, half delight, it was time to review the food trucks’ efforts.  Truth be told, all of the trucks did one hell of a job infusing their cuisine with Stark Raving wines.  They all completed their mission to feed and please the guests who attended the event.  I heard not one complaint about any of the food truck fare.  However, there would be only one winner and with much discussion, we made our decision.  Wicked ‘Wiches took the cake with their inventive and convenient to eat, street-side goods. 

    This night of gluttonous behavior, inappropriately comical conversation with Joel Stein, fun with friends and food bloggers and way too much wine had come to an end.  Meals on Wheels was presented with a $2,000 check from Stark Raving wines and every guest went home “fat and happy.”  An event I feel most proud to be apart of, it was seriously my best food blogging “perk” yet.  Oh…and buy Joel Stein’s book.  The man is hilariously witty as they come.  

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