Spend a little time in Tampa and it won’t be long until you hear about Bern’s Steak House, the famed steakhouse-turned-legend, winner of countless accolades, most recently hailed one of the world’s best steakhouses by Forbes.
Perhaps just as famous as Bern Laxer’s steaks are his wines. The restaurateur became a connoisseur and collector, traveling across the globe in pursuit of the best. Wine themed art dons the walls at Bern’s, along with Laxer’s own travel photography and maps of famed wine regions. (Bern’s may be the only restaurant to have once boasted an on-staff cartographer).
Today, the restaurant is home to the world’s largest collection of wines and the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world. It’s only fitting that as such, Bern’s throws the area’s largest, most decadent food and wine event, one of the region’s largest private fundraisers for charity.
This year marked Winefest no. 26. Over the course of a week, sold out events included the Haven’s Winemaker Dinner, Bern’s Steak House Legacy Dinner, Krug and Shellfish Experience, Blending Seminar and Wine Country Picnic, and Bern’s Steak House Bordeaux Dinner.
All proceeds from the fest send funds to the James Beard Foundation for the Laxer Memorial Scholarship Fund supporting promising young chefs. Last year’s recipient, Christopher Wanna worked alongside the winefest team in the kitchen to prepare dishes for guests.
“Being chosen for this scholarship was an amazing opportunity for me. Cooking is more than just a hobby for me, it’s my way of expressing creativity,” says Wanna, who currently works at Jaya at The Setai in Miami Beach. “I was grateful for the opportunity to work with the Bern’s team at Winefest. I learned from experienced and talented chefs and being able to help at the event, knowing funds were being raised for the next scholarship recipient, was a very full-circle moment for me.”
26 scholarships have already been gifted to students interested in pursuing careers in culinary, hospitality management or viticulture. This year, proceeds from Winefest will fund at least two scholarship recipients.
“Sharing our kitchens with Christopher Wanna this week was a great experience for our team,” says Johnson. “He is a very talented young chef, and to know that we’ve played even a small part in allowing him to get a start in this industry validates all the hours and work put into the Winefest events.”
At dinner events, guests were treated to multiple course decadent dinners. Bern’s Executive Chef Chad Johnson presented creative, artful dishes including oolong tea lacquered sea trout for one evening, and smoked duck pithivier on another.
Having spearheaded one of the world’s best classic steakhouse menus, Johnson’s Winefest dishes boasted his culinary creativity and ingenuity. Of course, some of the world’s best wine pairings accompanied the meals, and guests enjoyed commentary from winemakers, cellar owners and sommeliers.
Visiting chefs shined, including guests Pushkar Marathe of Stage, Chris Edwards of 1921 Mount Dora and Michael Collantes from Soseki Modern Omakase, all creators at the Florida Chef’s Dinner.
Months of meticulous planning coalesced in the fest’s grand finale, the Grand Tasting— where hundreds of the best wines are available to be sampled, along with regional fare and sweet treats from the teams at Bern’s, Haven and Epicurean.
With tickets sold out mere minutes after going online, it was a wonder that many attendees were first time guests. (We’ll have to ask them what was the secret for getting their ticket). Amongst return guests, many were in agreement–Bern’s Winefest keeps getting better and better.
Hundreds of wine selections meant that favorites varied by guest, but the talk of the tent was the wines from To Kalon Vineyard. Other highlights included an immaculate cheese cave, housed at Haven, sultry live saxophone on-site, crowd-pleasing dancing tunes courtesy of Electric Avenue, photobooth from the Prisoner Wine Company, and the sunny Taittinger Champagne Oasis.
“We have always felt the importance of giving back. It is through these food and wine themed events we are able to advocate for food and educational causes on both a local and national level,” says David Laxer, Bern’s owner and president. “Our events represent our brands, providing a giving platform to assist others that may not always be able to provide for themselves. The hard work and collaboration of our team members, sponsors, and contributors of Bern’s Winefest are the ingredients of its success. Providing scholarships is one way that we help build our industry’s future.”
By the event’s end – many wine bottles were emptied and dishes were savored. Attendees became friends and cheers-ed to new wine favorites in support of a worthy cause. If you didn’t get tickets this time, (they sell out faster than Taylor Swift’s), don’t fret, Winefest 27 has already been announced.
Craving a glass of wine? Read about Five Unique Bottles From the Bern’s Wine Cellar.