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Food Fight Series 9: Chef James Maita of Sacred Pepper

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Although he’s classically trained, Executive Chef James Maita has probably learned more from his 20 years of experience than any program could teach. Sacred Pepper is a bold restaurant, and the food he makes reveals plenty of twists. North Tampa has been energized by the contemporary American (with Italian flare) cuisine that Chef Maita brings to the table.

Featured Wine: Praja, Monica di Sardinia
Featured Restaurant: Sacred Pepper

Food Fight Series 8: Chef Felicia Lacalle of Hemingway’s

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that Chef Felicia (“Phe”) Lacalle won 1st prize for Best Cuban Sandwich in the home of Cuban Sandwiches mere months after opening her new restaurant, Hemingway’s, in the Heights Public Market at Armature Works in Tampa.

Chef Felicia was the Executive Sous and Regional Pastry Chef at Roy’s, and Executive Chef at Samba Room. Recently she’s been busy with her own meal prep service, but now she’s jumped back into the restaurant scene with her own concept. Hemingway’s serves traditional Cuban cuisine with a soulful twist and only the best ingredients. Is there more to come?

Featured Wine: Vina Sastre, Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo

Featured Restaurant: Hemingway’s

Food Fight Series 7: Chef Courtney Orwig of Haven

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The grandson of a spice merchant, Courtney Orwig moved to Florida from St. Louis and learned the art of pastry. After a few years he expanded to savory cooking, and eventually he became Sous Chef at SideBern’s (now Haven). Now Chef de Cuisine of Haven, Courtney has cooked at the Mondavi Winery, Star Chefs annual International Chefs Congress, and the James Beard Awards. Check out his thoughts on the changing restaurant and brewery scene in Tampa Bay.

Featured Wine: Drouhin Oregon “Rose Rock” Pinot Noir
Featured Restaurant: Haven

Food Fight Series 6: Chef Michael Buttacavoli of Cena

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After a serving as Chef De Cuisine at Boca and SideBerns under Chef Jeannie Pierola, Chef Michael Buttacavoli helmed Council Oak at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Now, of course, Chef Michael is the Executive Chef of the award-winning restaurant, Cena. The modern Italian menu has been a hit in the Channel District, even as the neighborhood has changed.

But wait… Chef Michael has just added something new to his resume: Cover Model. He’s on all the marketing materials as the face of the 2018 Tampa Bay Food Fight. Because of his experience as one of the contenders from last year’s close match, he returns to the fray this year as a coach for Team Tampa. In this episode, Chef Michael gives us the inside dirt on the importance of a game-plan, and what it takes to compete in the Tampa Bay Food Fight.

Featured Wine: Alberto Nanclares “Dandelion” Albariño
Featured Restaurant: Cena

Food Fight Series 5: Chef Ferrell Alvarez, Co-Owner of Rooster & the Till, Nebraska Mini Mart, and Gallito

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If you’re into the Tampa Bay food scene, then you already know who Chef Alvarez is. The James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef South is the co-owner of Rooster & the Till, named the best restaurant in the Tampa Bay area by The Tampa Bay Times.

From the Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy, Chef Alvarez worked his way up to Chef De Cuisine at Mise en Place, and then Executive Chef at Café Dufrain. Of course, now you can find him cooking at Friends of James Beard dinners or appearing on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

But if you only know Chef Alvarez from his work at Rooster & the Till, you’re missing out on the whole picture. He and partner Ty Rodriguez own Proper House Group, which is the umbrella company for the new Nebraska Mini Mart and the soon-to-open Gallito taqueria at Sparkman Wharf. Listen in as Chef Alvarez gives us the breakdown on these two new concepts.

See if you can catch the deafening silence that follows when, while reaching for an easy analogy to describe one of his dishes, he asks the hosts, “Have you ever had Indian Mango pickle?” Come learn how he’s breaking the clichés of the restaurant industry, and why he’s here in Tampa instead of NYC.

Featured Wine: Terre Nere Etna Rosso
Featured Restaurant: Rooster & the Till, Nebraska Mini Mart, and Gallito

Food Fight Series 4: Chef Brad Sobo of Cru Cellars

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Executive Chef, St. Louis transplant, and Hand Model. A graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute and formerly of Sidebern’s; the enigma that is Chef Brad has brought inspired cuisine to Cru Cellars for the last 4 years. But all of that will amount to nothing if he doesn’t do well in the “Make Me Cry” onion chopping contest.


It’s a shame you can’t see his hands in this photo, but then we’d have to pay extra.

Join us for a fun discussion on food, the best wine bar in Tampa Bay (Cru), wine, and the restaurant scene in Tampa.

Featured Wine: Eric Texier “Chat Fou” Cotes du Rhone

Featured Restaurant: CRU CELLARS!

Food Fight Series 3: Jeff Gigante and Chef Jason Saldutti of Forbici Modern Italian

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When in Rome, eat pizza. When in Tampa, eat Roman-style pizza. Jeff Gigante, well-known Co-Founder of Ciccio Restaurant Group, is opening his own restaurant in Hyde Park Village called Forbici Modern Italian. Forbici (“Scissors” in Italian) is going to be a vibrant, lighter take on Italian cooking with everything from pasta to wines-on-tap. But the real star of the show is their Roman-style pizza (The 5800 square foot space will even have a grab-and-go pizzeria on the side). Wait until you hear them explain just what makes it so rare and so special.

Who better to work the kitchen than Jason Saldutti? Jason was raised in his family’s pizzeria in Orlando. As a young man he branched out to other pizzerias and Italian restaurants, and notably was Executive Chef at Brio Tuscan Grille.

So listen along as Jen discovers her new health-food, we consider the appeal of pre-digested meals, and Torrey briefly makes listeners think that the chef has been stabbed during the “Make Me Cry” onion-chopping contest.

Featured Wine: Selvapiana Chianti Rufina
Featured Restaurant: Forbici Modern Italian

Food Fight Series 2: Lee Jasper of Dr. BBQ

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Not many BBQ resumes come better than Lee’s. He (and I’m not making this up) left the Texas oil fields to study real barbeque under Pitmaster Roy Perez at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX. You know, the one that opened in 1900.

That’s some slow cooking

When you hear Lee speak, you know right away that he’s as Texan as… I don’t know. Texas toast? So what on earth could lure him out to humid St. Petersburg? Easy: the Perrys, Dr. BBQ, and something called the BEAST.

Suzanne and Roger Perry (excellent neighbors and owners of Datz, Dough, and Roux) have teamed up with the famous Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe to open Dr. BBQ, a new restaurant in St. Pete. From an impeccable foundation rooted in traditional barbeque, they’re not afraid to explore regional variations or to branch out into some new and wild territory. But you better believe they’re still smoking with “ol’ hickory.”

So join us as we interview the real McCoy, only a few weeks from opening the new restaurant, as he talks about all things barbeque and competition. As a bonus in this series, you’ll get to see how well Lee does in the infamous “Make Me Cry” onion-chopping contest.

Featured Wine: Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rose
Featured Restaurant: Dr. BBQ
1101 1st Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33705

Food Fight Series 1: Cliff Barsi, VP of Food Service & Social Enterprise, Metropolitan Ministries

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“At the Wine Bar with Cru Cellars” is doing a special series on this year’s Tampa Bay Food Fight tampabayfoodfight.org. Cru Cellars is proud to host a food table and to donate a lot of the wine to this great cause. Benefitting Metropolitan Ministries’ Inside the Box Culinary Arts Program, the audacious goal is to raise enough money to fund 100 scholarships to turn at-risk students into valuable kitchen professionals. And how they’re going to do it is amazing.
Some of the Bay’s biggest names in food are assembling at Armature Works in Tampa to battle it out (in a boxing ring) in a Top-Chef style cooking competition. It’s St. Petersburg vs. Tampa, and pride is on the line. Also, you know, the 100 scholarships.

So we’re starting this series where it all began: Chef Cliff Barsi.

(Ding ding) Let’s get ready to… driiizzzle!

Cliff won first prize ($25,000) in a non-profit business-plan competition in 2012, and with that he launched Inside the Box Catering. Retail locations popped up (checkout the one at Armature Works), Grab & Gourmet cafes appeared (including at the Tampa and Orlando airports), and now they’ve launched Dough Nation (cookie dough and ice cream!). It’s a massive empire, built to serve a massive need.
Proceeds fund many of the 1.6 million meals that Metropolitan Ministries serve each year to hungry and homeless people in Tampa Bay. Not only that, but Inside the Box also provides on-the job training to people who were once homeless. So, yeah. A little more important than a cooking competition between Tampa and St. Petersburg. But screw St. Pete. (kidding)
Please consider donating to: http://www.metromin.org/

Cru 12: Sarah Belyeu, Wine Director and Manager of edison: food+drink lab

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Jennifer, Sarah, and my umbrella

Is she a cheese-maker from Brooklyn? An organic farmer from Oklahoma? A genetic preservationist from St. Augustine? Yes!
A love of all things organic brought Sarah to wine, and wine brought Sarah to the attention of Chef Jeannie Pierola. That’s a pretty simple explanation for a really fascinating story, but you can’t expect much from the show notes.
When she isn’t juggling wine bottles at one of Tampa’s best restaurants, she’s helping to launch two new projects: swigamajig divebar and fishkitchen, and Counter Culture. On this podcast, Sarah spills the beans on those new restaurants, the difference between wine that’s grown versus wine that’s made, and what it’s like to work with Chef Pierola.

Featured wine: Clos de Luz “Azuda”

Featured Restaurant: El Puerto Restaurant and Grill
(813) 248-8222
1623 E 5th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605