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Food Fight Series 19: Chef David Benstock and General Manager Ronald Randall of IL Ritorno

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Chef David is the Owner and Executive Chef of IL Ritorno, a modern Italian restaurant in St. Petersburg. He’s cooked at the James Beard House, and he’s been recognized by The Washington Post, Southern Living, Wine Enthusiast, USA Today, the Tampa Bay Times. He’s worked for celebrity chefs (including Wolfgang Puck), in Michelin star restaurants, and in Italy.

In fact, just as Chef David left The Modern in NYC to come to St. Pete, Ronald Randall was hired there. Eventually Ronald also left NYC for Florida and two years ago joined IL Ritorno as General Manager and Sommelier. While his wine list obviously needs to skew Italian, he’s managed to diversify things with some wines from around the world.

Within the last year they underwent extensive renovations and doubled the size of IL Ritorno. Now Chef David has a much larger kitchen to play in, and Ronald has a full liquor license to play with. Sit back and discover why you’re unlikely to find a heavy cream sauce in IL Ritorno, but you just might find a bottle of oft-maligned Merlot.

Featured Restaurant: IL Ritorno
Featured Wine: Elena Walch, Alto Adige, Schiava 

Food Fight Series 18: Chef Tyson Grant of Parkshore Grill

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He’s been named “Best Chef of Tampa Bay” in three different years by Tampa Bay Magazine. Chef Tyson was also appointed as a Chef Ambassador to the Deputy Mayor’s “Healthy St. Pete” initiative (Chef Tyson uses Zoe’s Edible Garden at All Children’s Hospital to educate kids about healthy eating and where food comes from).

Parkshore Grill has been in St Petersburg for more than a decade, and just earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for the 7th year. As a Chef Ambassador for Niman Ranch, Chef Tyson serves natural meats, sustainably caught seafood and organic, local produce. Now he’s launched Parkshore Grill Catering.

As someone with a front-row view of the changes on Beach Drive (and all of Tampa Bay) for the last decade, what does he think of the local eating scene? And how will he extract revenge from the Food Fight for shorting him out of time last year?

Featured Restaurant: Parkshore Grill 
Featured Wine: Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon

Food Fight Series 17: Chef Ted Dorsey of the Mill

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Chef Ted has quite a Tampa Bay pedigree. The Le Cordon Bleu graduate worked at Mise en Place before becoming Executive Sous Chef at Chez Bryce. He developed menus for Ciro’s Speakeasy & Supper Club, Boca Kitchen Bar & Market, and Copperfish Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar. Just before he opened The Mill, he was overseeing all the dining and bar facilities at Hotel Zamora (including Castile Restaurant).

And, oh yeah, he was named 2015 Best Chef by Creative Loafing. The Mill was named Best New Restaurant by Florida Trend Magazine, and Yelp has highlighted them as Best Restaurant in St. Petersburg by Yelp.  Listen up as he talks about “stuff on toast” and how he plans to help turn Tampa Bay into the food mecca of Florida.

Featured Restaurant: The Mill
Featured Wine: Roca Altxerri Getariako Txakolina 

Food Fight Series 16: Chad Johnson, Executive Chef of Epicurean Hotel and Haven

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When he was a young man, Chef Chad struck out for New York from Kentucky. There he attended the French Culinary Institute before working at Montrachet and the Savoy. Now, as Executive Chef of Epicurean Hotel and Haven, he oversees multiple menus (which he created) for a few of the most iconic restaurants in Tampa.

The accolades he’s racked up in Tampa are amazing:
James Beard semi-finalist in 2014 and 2012 for Best Chef: South Region
Top 25 Best Chefs in American South by Best Chefs of America in 2014
2011 and 2012 Best of the Bay Chef by Creative Loafing
Top Chef by the Tampa Bay Times
(He’s also cooked at the James Beard House, the Kentucky Derby, and as guest Chef by Emeril Lagasse for Boudin, Bourbon and Beer, and Line, Vine and Dine. Chef Chad’s been featured on CNN, Bay News 9, Studio 10, USA Today, Southern Living, Washington Post, The Tampa Tribune, Wine Spectator and DuPont Registry.)

Chef Chad oversaw the openings of both Haven and Élevage. Just recently, he expanded the Lobby Bar and had to redo a menu of 50 dishes in just 48 hours. So what does this accomplished man think of the Tampa Bay dining scene? How fast can he chop an onion? And what does he label “…the next hipster-approved wine”?

Featured Restaurant: Élevage and Haven
Featured Wine: Dubost Beaujolais-Village

Food Fight Series 15: Chef Jonathan Atanacio of Élevage

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Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Atanacio grew up in NYC and went to culinary school at The Art Institute. He worked with Francois Payard, became Chef de Cuisine at Aquagrill in Soho, and then Executive Sous Chef at Todd English’s Olives. If he looks familiar, you might have seen him on “Chef Hunter” on The Food Network.

Better to be the hunter than the hunted

Jon moved to Tampa and joined the opening team for the Epicurean Hotel (which needs to be an episode on its own- I mean, the original restaurant (Bern’s Steak House) is so good that it needs its own hotel with extra incredible restaurants), where his skills quickly got him promoted to Chef de Cuisine. What happens when Southern style meets French technique? Listen in on the latest changes to the Lobby Bar and Élevage.

Featured Restaurant: Élevage
Featured Wine: Cote de Bordeaux “Duc des Nauves” Chateau Le Puy 2016

Food Fight Series 14: Chef Rachel Bennett of The Peabody

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Executive Chef Rachel Bennett just opened The Peabody in St. Petersburg. I mean, like, days ago. How she managed to scrape herself together enough to get to the Cru Studio to do a stupid onion chopping contest is a testament to her energy and dedication (and, apparently, wrinkle cream).

As a graduate of HCC’s culinary program and the kitchens of Bern’s Steak House, Edison, and Oxford Exchange, Chef Rachel probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as she was to find out that she’d been chosen to lead The Peabody. Tune in to find out what this dynamic chef has to say about the Tampa Bay food scene, and how her restaurant is introducing a new paradigm.

Featured Restaurant: The Peabody
Featured Wine: Bacchus Pinot Noir “Ginger’s Cuvee”

Food Fight Series 13: Chef Adam Beckett of Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina

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When Executive Sous Chef Adam Beckett moved here from the Bay Area in California, he jumped at the chance to work at a Mina project. Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina in St. Petersburg is, as he puts it, “2200 square feet of awesomeness.” Well, multiply that by the second floor and all the outside seating and you have awesomeness on an exhausting scale. As he points out, because of all the stations and differing menus, it’s more like seven restaurants under one roof. All of which need to be humming to exacting standards. How do they make it happen?


Featured Restaurant: Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina
Featured Wine: Langhe Nebbiolo Barbaresco 2016

Food Fight Series 12: Chef Chris Fernandez of Red Mesa

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Executive Chef Chris Fernandez worked in the best kitchens of Oaxaca, Mexico and learned to cook the nation’s regional dishes and flavors.

When Chef Chris came to St. Petersburg, he joined the Veytias and opened Red Mesa Restaurant. Obviously, it did very well. The city demanded more delicious Mexican food, so they opened Red Mesa Cantina… and Red Mesa Mercado. Now there’s Red Mesa Events gourmet banquets services and DeSanto Bar.

Each concept is a bit different, so how does he manage this empire?

Featured Restaurant: Red Mesa
Featured Wine: Bichi Santa, Rosa del Peru, Tecate Mexico

Food Fight Series 11: Chefs Shane Clark and Jonathon Wilson of Oystercatchers and Armani’s

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The Grand Hyatt in Tampa boasts two outstanding restaurants: Oystercatchers and Armani’s. As Chef de Cuisine at Oystercatchers, Shane Clark knows his way around Gulf Seafood. Since his customers are literally looking at jumping fish from their waterside seats, the pressure is on to keep the food on their forks just about as fresh.

14 floors above him (in a different building on the property) Chef de Cuisine Jonathon Wilson is busy cooking Northern Italian cuisine for the fine dining restaurant, Armani’s. That is, when he isn’t making cheese. He’s only been there for seven months, but he’s already updated the menu quite a bit. He’s launching a new Fall Menu, and we’ll get to see if he adds a favorite from his days in Wyoming: elk tartare.

Featured Restaurants: Oystercatchers and Armani’s
Featured Wine: Henri Perrusset Mâcon-Villages White Burgundy

Food Fight Series 10: Chef Rob Reinsmith of Noble Crust

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It’s a good thing that Executive Chef Rob Reinsmith worked at Bone Fish Grill while attending Le Cordon Bleu. At Bone Fish, he made such an impression on founders Tim Curci and TJ Thielbar, that they kept in touch while Chef Rob left Florida and went off to NYC. In New York, he helped open the Michelin star- awarded restaurant Torrisi Italian Specialties. With that massive success, they saw a need for a more casual spot next door, and so Rob designed the menu for Parm (2 stars from the New York Times). Eventually, Tim Curci and TJ Thielbar convinced Chef Rob to come back to Florida to help them open their latest Italian/Southern concept in St. Petersburg. We’re glad he did. After a year of sweat, culinary experimentation, and a visit from the Fire Department, Noble Crust opened to rave reviews.  It’s grown to 3 locations (with more on the way?), and Chef Rob even gives us a sneak peak at their latest projects: Fat beet Farm and Fat beet Farm market and bakery.

Featured Restaurant: Noble Crust
Featured Wine: Cedre Heritage Malbec, Cahors FR