by Emily Banaitis
This weekend down in the botanical gardens at the University of South Florida you could find the annual Florida Vegan “Gourmet” Food Fest, hosted by City Festivals.
This event is an annual occurrence where vegan chefs from around the Tampa Bay area gather to showcase some of their favorite dishes. Not only do individuals get to taste the wonderful creations, but they have an opportunity to participate in food demos, they can shop around to local vegan-friendly businesses and they can even participate in meditation sessions.
“I met so many nice people, learned so many cool things, like what saffron water was, and it was such a nice little melting pot of a place for like minded people to meet and just enjoy their time,” said Gabi Wallace, a senior at The University of Tampa.
While walking around the fest I got the opportunity to talk to some of the vendors about the different products they have created for this event and while I chatted with them, it was noticeable how excited they were to explain their products and the process behind creating them.
“I don’t add any acids or preservatives. Everything is completely whole food based so my dates are whole dates, not date bean syrup and my vanilla beans are whole vanilla beans not vanilla extract.” said Hasan Alkhoor of JustHydrate, in explanation to how his gourmet milks are different from other milks on the market. “I was in the kitchen for thirteen hours straight making these.”
Even though chefs do come from all over the Tampa Bay area to participate in the fest, there is one chef that comes from UT. Matheus De Carvalho, a current student at UT, owns his own food cart called Brazilian Fun Foods. A former military cook, he wanted to be able to keep up his love of cooking and be able to transition into the real world too.
“My mom gave me the idea to open a food cart. She and my dad built the food cart for me, got the licensing and gave it to me for my birthday,” said De Carvalho.“They said here you go, here is a company, sign it and it’s all yours. Now you invent the recipes because we don’t know how.”
To finish off the afternoon, I got to visit what ended up being one of my personal favorite vendors. Hazmin Flynt of Min’s Matcha is part of a husband/wife duo who took the matcha world by storm. After suffering an injury to her right arm where she lost feeling in it, Flynt knew she had to change her lifestyle.
She regained use of her arm but was still addicted to drinking Diet Coke and knew she had to quit after talking with her holistic doctor. After trying a bunch of different teas that her family brought her, she ended up recreating different matcha flavors after falling in love with the sample her niece brought her from California.
“Matcha is huge in California so she started getting me into matcha and I ended up trying to make flavors,” said Flynt. “My kids at that time were in college and all of their friends were coming over saying “we gotta have some matcha, please have some! ” so that’s how we got started into the business.For us also matcha is grown only in China or Japan and in Japan the elevations are higher and everything is cleaner in that area and so we only use organic Japanese matcha.”
City Festivals knew how to put on one of the most unique experiences I’ve had the pleasure to take part in and I can’t wait to come back next year. While the Vegan Gourmet Food Fest may be over, check out their website, cityfestivals.org or their Facebook, City Festivals for more entertaining events in the future.
Emily Banaitis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org