Planning a successful fundraising event can be daunting. There are innumerable tasks, hundreds of details, logistics to consider, inevitable last-minute changes and challenges to master before the event can even take place, let alone be successful.

Planning these types of events since 1991, the Florida Winefest & Auction team makes this type of challenge appear easy. Having raised $7.5 million raised for children’s charities, the Florida Winefest’s Balloon Glow Dinner was their latest example of an elegant, fun-filled fundraising event.

 

The Balloon Glow Dinner

The first of its kind in the Sarasota area, the Balloon Glow Dinner was held under the stars at the 85-acre Herschberger Ranch on Friday, Feb. 24, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Imagine a wide-open field and pond at sunset. On one side of the pond, there’s a tent-covered area with 20 round tables elegantly set. On the other side of the pond, six hot air balloons intermittently fire their propane burners, providing a colorful glow from the inside of the balloon and the corresponding reflection off the water—truly an interesting backdrop.

The gourmet dinner catered by Chef Paul Mattison was served buffet-style, with four primary food stations and three dessert stations all set up around the back perimeter of the tent. The menu consisted of the following:

  • Panzanella: Fennel-crusted bread salad of olives, anchovies, and capers with a red wine reduction.
  • Ripe Tomatoes and Boccancini: Mozzarella with caramelized onions and fresh basil oil.
  • Strawberry Salad: Romaine lettuce with strawberries, candied walnuts, gorgonzola and chopped red onion served with Sauvignon vinaigrette.
  • Pan Roasted Rack of Baby Lamb: New Zealand rack with a mint, tomato and lemon confiture.
  • Sliced Duck Breast: With mandarin oranges, roasted shallots, candied pecans and ginger demi.
  • Carved Beef Tenderloin
  • Paella: Traditional Spanish saffron rice with shrimp, mussels, fresh fish, chorizo, pork, garlic, onions, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes.
  • Plank Broiled Salmon: With basil, lemon and a Vernaccia cream sauce.
  • Shrimp
  • Chicken in Chianti: Slow-roasted chicken thighs with onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, pine nuts, sultanas, demi-glace and sage.
  • Grilled Quail: With dried cranberry sauce.
  • Risotto: Fugi con Tortifo.
  • Smore’s: Fire pits, Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and loads of fun.
  • Warm Apple Crisp: Deep-dish apple cobbler topped with vanilla bean gelato
  • Bananas Foster Flambé Crepe: Fresh-cut bananas, caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon and crème fraiche flambeed in a crepe with imported dark rum and banana liquor, topped with fresh, sweetened whipped cream.

Jim and Sharon Butler enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.

As one would expect from the Florida Winefest & Auction, an ample selection of boutique wines ranging from sparkling, white, rosé, and red in various varietals were available as an aperitif and an accompaniment to the meal. Music for the evening was provided by John Rinell.

This year’s Balloon Glow Dinner served as a preview for next year’s event: Planning is already underway for 2013 Florida Winefest and Hot Air Balloon Festival to be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. Plans include participation from 15 to 20 balloonists, rides and much more to come—another first of its kind in Sarasota!

Florida Winefest & Auction’s 22nd annual event will be held in Sarasota, April 12 through April 15, 2012. For more information on all the events and ticket purchases, go to the Florida Winefest & Auction website.

Under the tent at the Balloon Glow Dinner. All photos by Candice McElyea.

 

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