Best Way to Find Plant-Based Food Options In Your Area is to Attend a Vegan Food Festival: Review of the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival 2020

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Review of the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival 2020

Vegan Curious

I want to put the disclaimer out there that I am not vegan. However, I love to eat vegan when I can. I guess you can say I am vegan-curious. 

I have gone on monthly vegan challenges to see if I can really become vegan someday, but the issue I tend to run into is finding the “meat alternative”. I would go about eating all the things I would normally consume but finding alternatives to meat and dairy. This always ended up in me not liking the fake meats because they didn’t taste like meat at all. Let’s not even go there about trying to make something taste creamy or cheesy without the dairy. I end up just eating carbs with veggies. 

Today we have a lot of great vegan restaurants popping up around major cities so it’s not as hard to eat a tasty vegan meal and not miss the meat. I’ve found that a lot of times these local businesses are discovered via word of mouth in vegan circles. So the vegan-curious never learns of these magical plant-based spots until such a restaurant hits it big and gets some sort of publicity. Hence the need for local food festivals. 

I had the opportunity as a Food & Travel Blogger to cover the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival held on February 1, 2020. This event is put on by City Festivals and I was chomping at the bit to get the inside scoop on veganism and the gourmet food world. I had only attended a vegetarian festival many years back by accident. I was taking a stroll in a progressive city that I was visiting and just ran into it. This was back when veganism wasn’t a “thing” like it is today. Back then people either cringed when someone said they were a vegetarian or they were overly amazed that someone could cut out meat as it was “so hard to do.” 

Highlight Video

Veganism Options Today

Nowadays one can cut out dairy as well and go completely vegan because there are so many more plant-based options out there. Unfortunately, some of the best vegan options I’ve had contain soy as the protein. Soy may be one of the biggest reasons I am not ready to go vegan or vegetarian as the cons outweigh the benefits when consuming soy over meat. I must say I have noticed more plant-based options are coming to market other than estrogen filled soy protein. Pea protein, nut milks, oat milk and even jackfruit are excellent plant-based options. Once this becomes as prominent and going vegan has I may give veganism a try. I digress. 

My best friend became vegan about 2 years ago and she was flying into Tampa to visit me from New York, so the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival came in perfect timing. This was going to be the first time I’ve seen her since she went on a plant-based diet. I was the healthy eater in our friendship. I honestly wasn’t even sure if she was a healthy vegan eater as I happen to know a whole lot of vegans that eat a whole lot of junk and veggies aren’t the biggest part of their diet. Carbs are. So health and veganism don’t always go hand in hand as many vegans tend to become vegan out of the love of animals not for health purposes. I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the Best Chef’s Award because that meant I was going to get to taste all the best of the gourmet vegan foods in Tampa Bay.

As a foodie, I have had some fantastic vegan fare. Yet as a non-vegan, I began to realize how very little options vegans actually have when they are in a group mixed with carnivores stepping into a typical restaurant. Many items are made with dairy and animal fats even if it’s a carb, veggie or a legume. The gourmet vegan entrees at this vegan event would give me a chance to see if I would miss the meat.

As a media guest, I was fortunate enough to gain access to the Bamboo Lounge for VIP entrants where we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres by Ciccio Cali. Ciccio Restaurant Group owns several phenomenal restaurants here in Tampa Bay which all err on the side of healthier options so it isn’t surprising that they have fantastic a plant-based menu as well. Ciccio’s vegan ricotta made from cashew blew all of us away. 

Best of Chefs Competition

Next, I went onto the Judges Pavillion to sample each gourmet vegan entree in the Best of Chefs Competition. The plant-based gourmet entrees were:

On the Go Gourmet by Chef Vivian Dodson. She prepared a Vegan Chili that was spicy and flavorful. This was so good that in a blind taste test I would’ve thought I was eating a chile con carne. My only criticism is that the presentation in styrofoam cups was a bit lacking in comparison to other contestants who were using sustainable materials as dinnerware. Nevertheless this chili was amazing I’d go far enough to say it could go up against traditional chili in a cook off.

On the Go Gourmet Vegan Chili entry Florida Vegan Fest

Farmacy Vegan Kitchen located inside Duckweed Urban Grocery. Farmacy presented Jerk Pasta made with cavatappi pasta in a creamy jerk dressing with carrots, onion, celery and cherry tomato. This was one of my favorites, but pasta seems to always be the easiest vegan dish to pull off in my opinion. I would have liked to see a protein in this dish to show that vegan dishes don’t can be packed with protein. This taste was very filling and Farmacy showed off their gourmet capabilities with this entry.

Farmacy Jerk Pasta entry FL Gourmet Vegan Fest

Dixie Dharma located in Armature Works. They were able to pull off Carolina BBQ Sliders on a brioche bun. I gave this 5 out of 5 across the board. The use of jack fruit gave me the mouthfeel of meat and the protein I was looking for. Some of the other judges thought the sauce was a little sweet, but I love sweet and smoky barbecue sauce, so this was right up my alley. I had no issue with the slaw as a non-mayo eater! 

Dixie Dharma Carolina Sliders Florida Gourmet Vegan Fest entry

Seasoned Green by Chef Chris Carr. He prepared mouthwatering Jerk Chickun Jamaican Patties with Thyme Crust. I loved this patty. With all of its flavor, I did not miss meat and I’m a huge fan of beef patties and not so much chicken unless it’s curried, so this was quite impressive.

Seasoned Green Jamaican Jerk Chickun Pattie

Anonymous Chef. There was no signage next to this dish besides the name and ingredients. No other judge seems to know who the restaurant is. Please reach out if you know who the chef is as I would love to update this post. It was a Tropi Fried Rice. Hands down the prettiest presentation based on the fried rice presentation in a carved out pineapple as a bowl. This was a Japanese style fried rice with edamame, tofu, hijiki seaweed, vegan chorizo, avocado, mango, pineapple, and sweet chili sauce. This was definitely delicious, but I would eat this in moderation since I try to stay away from soy as much as possible.

Tropi Fried Rice FL Gourmet Vegan Fest entry

Vegarosa Foods by Chef Mathias Padilla. This was the winner of the event. They presented us with a full meal. An empanada, rice and black beans with a salad. The entire presentation was lovely. It was a full platter which will win foodies over every time.

Vegarosa Empanada Rice Beans & Salad Platter Winner FL Vegan Gourmet Food Fest

Vegan Fest Vendors

After the judging was over, we had a chance to visit with the wonderful vendors at this event. I didn’t get to all of them, but I did get a chance to interview a few:

Smoothie Operator


Bri’s Vegan Bakes


Bri's Vegan Bakes Tampa



Divine by Lioness


Leaf FilterLeaf_Filter

AAA Best Ethiopian Food

Waterloo Gin


Just Hydrate


Curious Cat Bakery


Tea Nation


Ciccio Cali


Highly Recommend Attending Vegan Fests

All in all it was a wonderful festival to be a part of. That cashew nut ricotta has really got me thinking that vegan cheeses have come a long way and dairy, more than meat is what holds me back from converting. Will I continue to be a part time vegan? Probably. I still find that soy is a prominent ingredient in vegan cooking, but as veganism evolves I can get closer to a plant based diet full time. 

Guess what? 

If it weren’t for the Vegan Festival, I wouldn’t have known what my best friend and I were going to eat for the weekend. 

I highly recommend attending Vegan Food Festivals even if you aren’t a vegan. You’d be surprised as to how delicious plant based foods are when prepared the right way.

The day after the festival my best friend and I rented scooters in downtown Tampa and rode over to Farmacy for a glorious vegan brunch. 

Thank you City Festivals for putting on this event to bring awareness to Plant Based Gourmet Foods in Florida. I look forward to next year! Keep up with City Festivals Events on their website, Instagram & Facebook!


This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Charlie

    Great written review and cool video! Happy to have experienced this festival with you.

    1. AlohaMelani

      Hey CharlieChowsDown!

      Wasn’t it a wonderful festival! I thought it was really cool to learn about all the vegan options we have in Tampa Bay. As a fellow foodie I know you appreciated that gourmet vegan food was served and is “a thing!” I’m not ready to become vegan yet, but I do like being a part-time vegan! It was great hanging out with you and our other Tamba Bay foodies and it was super exciting for us to judge the Best of Chefs Contest.

      I hope we get asked back as media guests again next year!


  2. Ivan

    First of all, I like your website very much. And this review of the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival 2020 is off the hook! I like the images the most. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience as well as some delicious meals. I bet you had a great time exploring the festival and trying all those delicious meals. Great post!

    1. AlohaMelani


      Thank you so much for your feedback on my website! 

      As for the Vegan Fest it was an amazing experience and it really gave me more insight on veganism and that it can be totally delicious when using the right ingredients for meals. I’m glad you like the photos. Sometimes it’s hard choosing which ones to post of if I’m posting too many. I really appreciate your comments. 


  3. Benny

    Hello, I really want to first appreciate your effort in putting this great website together and writing this article. everything i see here is making my me salivate. i love food and i might say i am a foodie. with these views any one would want to be a vegan. thank you for this post

    1. AlohaMelani


      I’m a huge foodie too! So I’m up for any food at any time. I’m also vegan-curious though so a festival like this is a perfect way to see if I could live on a plant-based diet full time! I’m not quite ready for that so I’ll stick to part-time for now, but the items here were delicious!

      Thank you so much for the feedback on my website too! Sometimes you wonder if you’re doing the right things or not, so I’m really thankful for it.

      The University of South Florida Botanical Garden was a perfect setting for a Vegan festival. It was a little cloudy and cold for Tampa that day, but it sort of fit the mood. It was my first time at the Botanical Garden too, so I’m looking forward to spending some time admiring all the vegetation there!


  4. Patrick

    The festival was great and laid back having it in the garden with my friends was a wandering experience. Florida was great had a nice time learning and trying new vegan food and we even set up a date for salad makers to come over and cook for us a full vegan meal. It was really a wonder experience. 

    1. AlohaMelani


      Awesome that you were also able to attend the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival! I hope to run into you at an event if you’re in town. We have so many cool festivals here in Tampa. If you happen to see me out please introduce yourself so we can talk IRL!


  5. Queen

    This is quite a nice writeup and you have given me the very best idea I need to discover vegan meals.

    Veganism is something I have been looking into for a while now but haven’t ventured into fully because of lack of availability of places to explore that option in my area.

    That is why the idea of attending a local vegan food festival sounds so amazing.

    I will be on the look out for such as I don’t really know if they organise such at this side of the world where I live.

    Nonetheless,  thanks for sharing your wonderful experience, very much appreciated.

    By the way you look great. 🙂


    1. AlohaMelani


      It’s the season for festivals here in Florida. Whenever you have good weather would be the time to look for these festivals! Also, check to see if you have meetups in your area for vegans! They have communities of people that know everything you want to learn. just tell them you’re vegan-curious and I’m sure you’ll get an earful! LOL I’m not ready to go full-on vegan but I do love eating vegan part-time.


  6. Harish

    Hello, I like your website very much.Your guide is awesome for everyone And this review of the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival 2020 is off the hook! I like the images the most. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience as well as some delicious meals. Now I know that the University of South Florida Botanical Garden was a perfect setting for a Vegan festival. It was a little cloudy and cold for Tampa that day, but it sort of fit the mood. Awesome and lovely.

    1. AlohaMelani

      Hi Harish,

      Yes, it was a little cold and cloudy, especially for Florida! Thank you for you kind words and I’m glad you liked the photos!


  7. Parameter

    Hello Melani,

    Travelling and meeting people goes hand in hand, and they are of course good source of information. Understanding what to eat as a vegan could be a times challenging but meeting people who concentrate of vegetables will really help.

    I met a friend recently and he wonderfully showed me how he added garlic and mushroom, like you said about seasoned Green by Chef Chris Carr, you will not miss meat at

    1. AlohaMelani


      Absolutely! Traveling you can meet people of all walks of life and I happened to meet a lot of vegans traveling as well. A wonderful tip. Also yes mushrooms seem to give a nice mouthfeel that is meaty so you don’t miss the meat! 

      Thank You for reading.


  8. Deepanshi

    Hey, I enjoy a lot while reading and watching your guide on Vegan food festival 2020. I found it is awesome and lovely for everyone. I would have liked to see a protein in this dish to show that vegan dishes don’t can be packed with protein. This taste was very filling and Farmacy showed off their gourmet capabilities with this entry. My mouth is full with water after reading your blog. Thanks for giving time to write.

    1. AlohaMelani

      Thanks for reading my blog Deppanshi!


  9. Boniface-AndroidBix

    Dear Aloha,

    I so much agree with you that despite the many trials that are put out there to come up with alternatives to meat and dairy by vegans, meat and dairy cannot taste so if they are not. And that’s also the biggest challenge that I’ve had with my family any time I try to introduce an exclusively vegan diet at home. I personally do not like “meat” that doesn’t taste like meat!

    However, going vegan has so huge benefits. I’ve found out that whenever we stick to organic foods solutions that eliminate any source of animal proteins, my children do not frequent the hospital- especially when I ensure they take an immune-boosting concoction of honey, garlic, ginger, pure cold-pressed olive oil, and some specific local plant extracts.

    In your experience with the delicious dishes you’ve displayed, I’ve most liked the Anonymous Chef’s. I live in an area where pineapple is grown on a large scale but I’ve never seen it play the role of a plate/bowl!


    1. AlohaMelani


      Oh I feel your pain! I would rather eat a vegan meal where there just isn’t any meat than fake meat grown in a lab! So good to know how healthy your children are on a strict vegan diet. I do love your concoction as well. I drink green smoothies quite a bit, so I tend to have a lot of those items in it sans garlic. I bet it makes for a delicious tea! 

      Pineapple bowls are becoming popular here in Florida. I’ve had Poke in pineapple bowls. Usually, it is something with rice. Since you have an abundance of pineapples in your area you should introduce the concept there!

      Thank you for your insightful comment!


  10. Lalita

    Hello, I really want to first appreciate your effort in putting this great website together and writing this article. everything i see here is making my me salivate. Veganism is something I have been looking into for a while now but haven’t ventured into fully because of lack of availability of places to explore that option in my area. i love food and i might say i am a foodie. with these views any one would want to be a vegan. thank you for this post

    1. AlohaMelani


      Thank you for reading and your wonderful comment!


  11. Naksh

    Wow, looks very awesome. I recently know about the beauty of vegan food. I also noticed their is an awesome competition on vegan food 2020. Thanks for covering and sharing your knowledge with us. I am feeling very happy while reading your blog on vegan food. Very lovely I like it. Now panning to go vegan. thanks for sharing your wonderful experience, very much appreciated.

    By the way you look great. 🙂


    1. AlohaMelani


      That’s awesome that you plan to go vegan! I am not quite ready for it yet, however as you read, my best friend has done it and she says she feels so much better than she did in the past. Congratulations and I wish you well on your vegan journey!


  12. Julius

    Thank you for sharing your review. I like the idea of you being there and collecting all this stuff for people to see what it is like to be on such a festival and what for options are out there for veganists. As this was your purpose I guess. Well if yes, then you did a great job. Not there is a lot of helpful information in your post, but you could all capture it in a very well-designated post. Together with the videos and pictures, it is really great job! One question, if I understood it correctly, you are not consuming Soy because you are afraid of gaining weight? If yes, I am vegetarian and eating Soy every day, and not gained weight at all -;) Just to give you some boost. All the best for future

    1. AlohaMelani

      Hi Julius,

      Thank you for reading and your kind words!

      Actually I don’t consume soy because I have issues with too much estrogen. Unfortunately, I have been to the doctor a lot because of my health issues due to estrogen. Here in the US most of the soy is grown with GMO’s as well and it’s cancer-causing. I don’t mind fermented soy, but straight soy is an issue. Weight has not been an issue at all with soy, so I apologize if my blog post was misleading. It’s more about tumor growth due to estrogen. This isn’t much of an issue for men as it is for women.

      I loved the vegan fest and I am staying on a part time vegan diet for now. Maybe one day I will become a full time vegan as this festival did show me that a plant based diet can be so delicious!


  13. Steve

    I love food festivals, but the ones I usually go to are centered around meat. For some reason, I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Vegan Food Festival. While I am not a Vegan myself, I love trying new foods and some of the ones you featured look amazing! Do you happen to know if these kinds of festivals take place in the northeastern parts of the country? I certainly hope so!

    1. AlohaMelani

      Hi Steve,

      I bet they are! I wasn’t ever looking for a vegan fest at all but I’m glad I was invited to this one. I think they are growing in popularity. In Central Florida it’s festival season here. I’m sure in the Northeast it starts in the Spring. A great place to check is Facebook, Meetup and Eventbrite for festivals and I bet you’ll run into a plant based food fest! As a foodie I explore all types of food and I was so surprised at how good the gourmet vegan food was!

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Good luck and happy festival hunting!


  14. Nimrodngy

    Sharing this article with us I feel very lucky that I was able to read it. This year I set out to become a vegan and I tell you why. I go to the gym for about 7 years and I met a bodybuilding professional who had very good results with vegan food. He has inspired me so much that I want to change my lifestyle by eating vegan. You have put here some amazing picture and I can say that I feel like i will start eating everything that is here. As a tip, I would like to ask you if this transition to vegan food should be done step by step? I say this because at the moment, for me there is no day without eating meat (for example).
    Thanks and keep in touch!

    1. AlohaMelani


      Thank you so much for sharing your desire to become vegan! I am not a vegan. I am vegan-curious like you, but I do try to eat vegan often. So, I’m starting off very slow. When I do eat meat it is the smallest thing on my plate or I give most of it away to someone else. If I am not at an event or on a trip I only eat meat at dinner. I also have incorporated “Meatless Mondays” where I don’t eat meat all day long and for dinner, I make something like pasta or rice with veggies. It’s also not just about meat. Dairy is difficult for me to give up because I love cheese and yogurt. However, I have been using nut milk and oat milk in my coffee and I’m getting used to it.

      My best friend went cold turkey and became vegan right away, but I know she struggled with hunger at first because she didn’t really know how to cook completely vegan and where to find vegan options where she lives. Now that it’s a part of her lifestyle she no longer craves meat or dairy.

      If I were you I would try eliminating meat and dairy a few days out of the week while researching where to shop, eat and cook vegan meals so that the transition is enjoyable. I hope you can find a Vegan Festival or Vegan support group in your area to help you with all of these things! The more you research it before beginning I think it will put you on the path to success with a plant-based diet.

      Good luck! I’d love to hear your success story on becoming vegan in the future!


  15. Samikingss

    Although I am not a vegetarian I have friends who are. I would love to share this with article with them so I can help to enlighten them more. 

    My question is, what is or are the importance of being a vegetarian? 

    I guess being vegan is a good thing but I don’t think it’s for me. I hope as I grow older I will be able to do away with eating meat. Maybe lots of fish and seafood would probably make me feel better and healthier. 

    1. AlohaMelani

      Hi Samikingss,

      I completely understand! I am not vegan or a vegetarian, but as a foodie with vegan friends I do eat vegan, vegetarian and even pescatarian at times. All of my friends on a plant-based diet say they feel so much better. I personally love dairy like cheese and yogurt so going vegetarian as opposed to vegan would be easier for me. I also like the idea of becoming a Pescatarian because I absolutely love seafood. I don’t’ see myself becoming a full-time vegan, but I do eat vegan part-time and I eat very little meat on my plate. I don’t want to consume a lot of soy products, which a lot of vegans do, so until soy is not a main form of protein I will not be able to go vegan full time.

      They say that there is less mucus in your body when you don’t consume animal products. The mucus in our bodies causes illness. However, a lot of vegans I know are vegan because they love animals and don’t really do it for health reasons like my best friend did. If I go full-time vegan it would be because I think I’ve found that eliminating animal products makes me feel better. I think that eating meat and dairy in moderation so far is working out for me.

      Thank you for reading and asking questions. This really makes me think about the health benefits of being vegan!


  16. shariful islam

    Many thanks to you for sharing such an excellent article with us .I love vegan gourmet food and the pictures you put in your registration are very appealing and fascinate me.And I love the delicious dishes you have shared with us.And plant leaves are something I’ve been looking for for a while, but here I go around my house to explore the alternatives of those who say I can create a full-blown lack of gifts.I realized very well when reading the food blog.

    1. AlohaMelani


      Thank you for reading and sharing your love of veganism. Good luck on your journey to find alternatives!


  17. Tasmia Ferdous

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful review with us and for the opportunity to discuss it. Your post is very informative. I learned many new things from your post at the Florida Vegan Gourmet Food Festival 2020 review.
    I have never been to a vegetarian food festival like this, most of the food festivals I went to were either vegetarian or mixed food. From your experience, I realized that the Vegetarian Food Festival was a lot of fun. Vegan Chili I have never eaten, I will definitely test Vegan Chili.
    I will share this article via social media. I think others will find out about the Food Festival.

    1. AlohaMelani


      Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, this was my first all-vegan festival. As I stated in the blog post I did run into a vegetarian festival many years ago, but like you, I usually attend festivals with mixed foods! This was an eye-opening experience for me because I got to taste how good vegan food can be. 

      Thank you so much for sharing this article with your friends and followers. It means a lot to me!


  18. smjtuhin

    Hey AlohaMelani,
    Thank you for your article, there are lots of useful information here about “Vegan”. I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. Personally, I like vegan food a lot and I eat vegan foods regularly. Vegan Foods contain a lot of vitamins that are very important to our bodies. My friends and I attend the Vegan Festival every year and we eat a lot of vegan foods. I will share your article through various social media so that everyone can know about Vegan food. As well as, We would like to receive more informative articles from you in the future as well too.

    1. AlohaMelani


      This was my first vegan festival although I have been to a vegetarian festival in the past. So good to know that this is something you do yearly. I like vegan food a lot too and although I don’t eat plant based full time I eat vegan regularly too! You can’t go wrong with veggies!

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience with me!


  19. Charlene

    SO awesome there is a Vegan Festival!!! I actually have a BFF who is vegan and it is SO difficult to find options for us to enjoy out together. We actually just had a bbq she attended and she brought vegan chocolate/rice crisp dessert bars to share… AHHHMAZING! What a wonderful festival to showcase vegan yummies and try new foods. HOORAY!

    1. AlohaMelani

      Yes! I didn’t miss the meat at all at this festival. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, but I definitely eat more vegan than before. I actually prefer vegan cookies these days too. Who knew!…well, I guess the vegans did!


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