Gasparilla Week at Datz!

By Suzanne Oaks Brownstein

My husband is the first person to say I need a cooking class. But he’s only the first in a long line of people, including my poor mother, a true Southern gourmet who can’t understand why I can’t make my way around a kitchen. 

I just wasn’t born with that innate sense of “the mushrooms have been sauté-ing for 10 minutes now – I should probably go check on them.” I am more of the “I smell the mushrooms burning – I should probably go check on them” variety. It is with no small shame to say my 2-year-old knows exactly what the smoke alarm in my kitchen sounds like.

So when I heard about the plans to have one of my favorite restaurants – Datz – hosting a series of events that featured “classes” on how to cook recipes from the newly released 50th anniversary edition of The Gasparilla Cookbook, I could not resist.

Does this Food Equation Apply to You?

Datz +

Gasparilla food +

Someone else cooking for me +

Picking up a few tips I can use at home =

My idea of a good lunch


Eat Like a “Mad Man” – or a “Mad” Woman!

My fellow JLT cookbook committee members had worked with the lovely Suzanne Perry at Datz delicatessen on South Macdill to have a Junior League of Tampa “invasion” of Datz in September. To celebrate The Gasparilla Cookbook – which was originally published in 1961, at the height of the “Mad Men” era – guest sous-chefs from the Junior League were paired with a real, professional chef from Datz (the talented Heather Stalker) to create dishes from the cookbook. For one week, diners could enjoy a lunch and dinner prepared right in front of them – complete with instruction from the chefs on how to best cook and serve the dishes, as well as any substitutions that might work for those of us who have, um, a less-than-well-stocked kitchen. 

As soon as reservations were accepted, I nabbed a lunch spot on the first day of the celebration week. When I heard that Cuban sandwiches were on the menu, I wasn’t going to delay. 

Sure enough, Monday’s lunch sold out quickly, and we were treated to a delicious traditional Cuban Sandwich (p. 306) – complete with a pickle, my favorite part. Of course, I could eat only half of it, because lunch had begun with Datz’s famous potato chips alongside Herb Dip (p. 12) and then an amazing Annie Laurie’s Potato Salad (p. 47) from The Gasparilla Cookbook. Three courses of deliciousness, and remarkably, each of the recipes was absolutely easy to prepare – even for me. 

And to top off a wonderful lunch that day, I got to meet a special guest – publisher Dave Kempf of FRP (Favorite Recipes Press), the publisher of all of The Junior League of Tampa’s cookbooks. As the sole gentleman among a table of twelve Leaguers, he was, I’m sure, happy to join us!

The week continued with tasty lunch and dinners featuring some of the best recipes from The Gasparilla Cookbook: Bacon Cheese Dip (p. 8), Black Bean Dip (p. 13), Ham Jambalaya (p. 111), Green Goddess Salad (p. 41), and Chicken Shortcake Natchez (p. 138); the cookbook dips were all featured as appetizer specials for all Datz diners that week, with a percentage of proceeds being donated back to the League. 

Datz Week’s guest sous-chefs were all from the Junior League, and I just have to list them here because I admire their bravery to display their cooking skills in front of a hungry crowd: Lynette Russell, Stephanie Wiendl, Lisl Unterholzner, Danielle Post, Suzy Mendelson, Andrea Layne, Denise Schultz (our Cookbook Committee Co-Chair), and Casey Carefoot. 

Party like a Pirate

Tuesday evening marked the highlight of our week at Datz: a cocktail party featuring real (?) pirates from Ye Mystic Crewe of Gasparilla; Mrs. Gasparilla herself, Elizabeth Waraksa; and a pirate ship worth of great food and drink taken from, yes, The Gasparilla Cookbook. More than 80 guests took over the downstairs of Datz – JLT actives, many significant others, and several JLT sustaining members who still had their dog-eared copies of the *first* edition of The Gasparilla Cookbook in their kitchens at home. If this is what people are partying like *months* before Gasparilla starts, January is going to be crazy!! 


How to Keep the Party Going

As the Datz week came to a close – which was a good thing only in the sense that my waistline had expanded exponentially – we had to remember that this was only the kick-off to a JLT year full of cookbook celebration. Next month, we’ll be setting up for the League’s annual Holiday Gift Market, where our booth will once again be featuring tasty morsels from all the League cookbooks. The HGM leads straight into Thanksgiving cooking season, followed up by a December of gift-buying (I’m planning on giving JLT cookbooks to family, friends, co-workers, and my kid’s pre-school teachers). Right after the New Year, of course, is when Gasparilla season kicks into high gear, and the best hostess gifts will be The Gasparilla Cookbook and Capture the Coast, keeping the pirate theme alive! 

We Couldn’t Have Done it Without You….

Thank you to Datz and their wonderful staff for hosting our week of events. Datz generously donated nearly $1800 of net proceeds from the events back to The Junior League of Tampa to support our ongoing programs for children and families in need across the Tampa Bay area.


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