Celebrate Mote Marine Laboratory at afternoon tea at Mote Aquarium’s Keating Center. Tea, prepared by Simply Gourmet, will be served the last two Tuesdays this month and the first two Tuesdays in March, promptly at 2 p.m.

The event will be a classic Royal Tea such as you might enjoy on a visit to London or at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Whether it is tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace or at Brown’s Hotel or even the famed Ritz, tea in London is an experience to be savored. So is Simply Gourmet’s Royal Tea by the Bay.

Larry and Jamie Barrett are the owners of Simply Gourmet, which is in its ninth year producing these delectable events. For the past eight years, the caterer has offered tea at the Powell-Crossley Mansion in Sarasota.

At Mote’s Keating Center, you and your friends will be served an elegant array of savory items, including cucumber sandwiches plus other traditional afternoon tea fare, such as petite chicken salad sandwiches on miniature Kaiser rolls and turkey sun-dried tomato pinwheel slices and more, followed by homemade scones with strawberry jam and Devonshire cream, more tea and a variety of sweets including, for example, miniature glazed white chocolate mousse fruit tartlets, and intense chocolate brownie triangles. For vegetarians, in addition to cucumber sandwiches, the chef prepares such things as tea sandwiches made with sliced radishes, butter and fresh herbs; olive tapenade with herbed goat cheese; grilled vegetables with herbed goat cheese mousse and basil/goat cheese pillows. (As this was written, the menu was still being planned.)

The chef prepares all the treats in his kitchen on Swift Road in Sarasota then transports the treats plus fine china and a staff of professional servers to the site, which in this case will be the Keating Center. The center holds about 75 people for tea and offers views of the bay.

Tea will be offered with milk and/or lemon and sweetener, again as it would be served in England.

When not catering fundraisers such as this one for Mote, Simply Gourmet caters weddings and many corporate events plus private parties for 20 and more.

Mote’s Keating Center is at 1599 Ken Thompson Parkway, directly opposite the main entrance to Mote Marine Aquarium.

“We expect 75 to 80 people at each afternoon tea,” Larry said while being interviewed in the Swift Road site of Simply Gourmet in Sarasota. “In past years we have done 10 sittings annually at the Crossley in Sarasota. This year we are doing just four but the room is much larger, seating 75.”

As a formal afternoon tea is a leisurely affair, each of these teas will last from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (Note: do not arrive late.}

It takes time to eat several savory sandwiches, sip some tea and chat about such things as Mote’s plans for a new larger aquarium at Benderson Park or the fine job done from May through October by all those wonderful volunteers on Mote’s sea turtle patrol. Venice alone has an army of such volunteers. Many take it so seriously they walk the beaches daily from May through October.

Friendly conversation is as much a part of afternoon tea as scones and clotted or Devonshire cream and jam. The jam must be strawberry, according to Larry.

The day of my visit to his kitchen, he was planning for the tea but also preparing to serve 175 at a special catered event at The Ringling.

What was the path he took to being one of the few caterers in Sarasota approved to serve at The Ringling where he has catered its wine walks, several weddings in the courtyard and events at Ca d’Zan? To get there he credits “Old Joe.”

“I started cooking at 17 at the Oceanside Country Club with “Old Joe,” he said. “I learned on the job.”

He also learned from two books by French chef Jacques Pepin: “Le Methode” and La Technique.” He read those in the 1970s. Later, while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Illinois, Barrett cooked for a girl’s sorority house.

Later still, while traveling, which he loved, he would “pick up gigs in little places along the way,” adding to his repertoire. By way of an example, Barrett learned to make tapas and how to peel cucumber for gazpacho.

“People used to take a break each afternoon,” the chef said. “We need to get back to that. Sometimes my sous chef and I are so busy we don’t eat. That’s crazy.”

That is probably how the custom of tea began. While closely associated with England, tea was first imported, in small quantities and at high prices, from China. Also from China came blue and white porcelain as England did not then know how to make such fine china. That did not last long and soon all sorts of fine china suitable to tea was being made by Spode, Wedgewood and others. Women wore beautiful gowns designed just for afternoon tea. Tea shops flourished. “The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea,” by Helen Simpson is an excellent source of information on the history of this delightful custom.

One note for Americans:

“Unlike afternoon tea, high tea is not a dainty affair.” Held at 6 o’clock, “It is hearty enough to make dinner unnecessary.” In other words, High Tea” is synonymous with “supper.” It most likely would include “bangers and mash” rather than dainty tea cakes. You will not find delicately decorated cakes, meringues, tiny finger sandwiches nor silver teapots and fine china at High Tea.

Mote’s Royal Tea by the Bay will be served at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19 and 20 and March 3 and 10. Prepare for a leisurely afternoon during which you will enjoy a variety of savory treats followed by scones and Devonshire cream and finally an array of sweet treats.

Bring a friend in order to enjoy pleasant conversation during your afternoon tea experience. Enjoy the bayside views. Watch for sailboats to be gently passing by. Wear a dainty hat such as a “fascinator” from England.

Chat quietly about coming shows at Venice Theatre, Venice Art Center, the Venice Performing Arts Center, the Van Wezel, the Asolo Rep or your dream vacation. Plan a visit to Mote to check on the sea turtles and sharks and all the other wondrous creatures being cared for there. You are on the Cultural Coast. Afternoon tea at Mote is yet another way to enjoy it.

The cost is $35 per person, which includes valet parking. For reservations, call 941-225-9122.

The Keating Center is at 1599 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, 34236.


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