Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
2:16 pm EST
Saturday, November 28, 2020

An Evening of Great Spirits


Delectable dishes from local chefs spiced with a dash of music and a sprinkle of comedy from a celebrity chef!

Leesburg is a thriving community, with a vibrant downtown, and it has seen significant growth in industry and new businesses. The Leesburg Chamber of Commerce is going to spotlight those businesses in an entertaining—and delicious—way.

The chamber, in partnership with Style, will host a Cooking with Vodka Dinner Concert Oct. 2 at the Arlington Ridge Golf Club in the Fairfax Banquet Hall. The person behind the idea and a major contributor to planning and preparation is David van de Velde, the founder of Ketel One Vodka, which he brought from Holland to the United States.

“When I met Dave, and he brought this idea to us, I knew it was unique. Nothing like this has been done before,” says Sandi Moore, executive director of the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce. “Dave has a generous heart and a love of charity. He wants to do things that benefit the schools in Leesburg, which will also benefit the businesses.”

Some of the events Dave has talked with Leesburg High School administration and teachers about are a Christmas concert with Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and possibly adding new sports to the school’s programs.

“Dave sees a need and works to help meet that,” Sandi says. “We need more people like that. What he does can inspire other people like him to continue to make a difference in their community even after they’ve retired.”

Celebrity Chef Jon Ashton is master of ceremonies for the evening. Known for his great humor and talent with food, he will be working with local chefs on each course. When Style caught up with Jon, he was preparing a hot potato salad with brats at his home in Martha’s Vineyard.

“We’re going to have as much fun as possible,” Jon says. “I’ll keep things moving by sharing stories about traveling and cooking tips throughout the evening. This year I spent six weeks in Southeast Asia learning about their cooking, and my goal is to share with people and encourage people with tips and tricks I’ve learned on the road.”

The popular chef loves to include vodka in some of his favorite recipes. “If you make your pie crust with vodka, it will be flakier because alcohol evaporates faster than water. I use vodka in the marinade for bluefish, and delicious desserts with vodkas and blueberries. I use the flavored vodkas more in desserts.”

Local chefs preparing courses include Chef Jessica Flinn of Gourmet Today Catering, who will prepare an appetizer. Chef Victor Donahey from Vic’s Embers Catering is making the fresh salad. Chef Mike Hallermeier of Arlington Ridge Grille, Chef John Bell of the Leesburg High School Culinary Program, and Chefs Edie Demshar and Pim Elliott from Honey Baked Ham, will prepare four main course dishes and the meal will end with dessert—American Napoleon—prepared by Chef John Bell.

“I just want to bring out the best in them for entertaining,” Jon says. “Kind of like Johnny Carson used to do with his roasts. If they don’t enjoy the evening, they can write to Martha Stewart, and she’ll give them their money back.”

Three Tenors and One Soprano, Chris Horn, Keith Workowski, Mark Antonio de Villiers, and Janette Zilioli will perform well-known Italian songs throughout the evening.

Each table will have an array of take-home gifts for diners. Guests will receive either a “Cooking with Vodka” chef’s hat or a chef’s apron, a double-wall acrylic wine glass for outdoor use and a stemless wine glass, a regular wine glass, a foam finger, and more!

The winners of the recipe contest and the judges will have a unique awards presentation.

And Jon promises, “I’m going to take them to a little place called Happyville!

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