The Originals Celebrate Ten Years of The Grand Tasting

Arts & Culture


Restaurateurs, winemakers and all the area’s foodies that will fit descend this Sunday upon the Ringling Museum courtyard for the 10th annual Forks and Corks Grand Tasting. Produced by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, a consortium of local independent restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the yearly event serves as celebration and reminder of the local restaurants that give the region its flavor. “Sarasota-Manatee is a personality that is independent and not just associated with large, chain restaurants, like other areas of Florida,” says Beth Owen-Cipielewski, co-owner of Siesta Key Oyster Bar and co-founder of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals. “By bringing together all these Sarasota and Manatee restaurants, we showcase the best of our community to a very broad audience.” And on this 10th anniversary for the Grand Tasting, it serves as reminder of how far the Originals have come.

Looking back, Owen-Cipielewski remembers an enterprise far from certain, made manifest only by the tireless work of a board comprising local leaders like Michael Klauber, D’Arcy Arpke and former Originals President Angela Rodocker. Another local food festival organized by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association had just been discontinued—was this a niche to be filled or an example not to be followed? But the Originals marched on, recruiting 30 restaurants to participate and building a now long-running relationship with the Ringling Museum. “Because when we’re banded together it shows that we’re strong,” says Owen-Cipielewski. “Our objective was, and always is, marketing to the community that we’re here and we’re great restaurants.” That first year, they sold tickets at the door.

Ten years later, 1,500 tickets sold out in a record-breaking two minutes for an event bringing a similarly record-breaking 38 winemakers from around the world to pair their wines with offerings from Sarasota-Manatee chefs. “Every restaurant is stepping up their game,” says Owen-Cipielewski. And as turnout increases among the community at large, the event risks actually hitting the space limit for the Ringling courtyard, she says. The only aspect that has not seen great change has been the makeup of the Originals itself. Of current members, 86 percent are either restaurants or proprietors from the founding class. “It shows that we don’t have a high turnover in Sarasota,” says Owen-Cipielewski. “We’ve got really good independents that stick around for a long time.”

This year, the Originals celebrate by bringing Tervis to the party to create special Tervis tumbler wine goblets, but as she looks to future and another 10 years of Forks and Corks and the Originals, Owen-Cipielewski nurtures grander plans. “Sarasota’s already pretty well known for its restaurants,” she says, “but I’d like it to be internationally known for its culinary expertise.”

Photo courtesy of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals.

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