GULFPORT – The battle was spicier than ever in the fourth annual Top Local Chef competition, produced by LocalShops1 and Intensity Academy. But only one chef could go home with the Top Local Chef title and a wild card spot in the World Food Championships in Las Vegas, where he will compete for prizes up to $500,000.
That chef was Ramon Hernandez, 2013 Top Local Chef winner and owner of Pipo’s Restaurant on Bay Pines Boulevard.
Hernandez took home the coveted Giant Silver Knife, which he plans to proudly display next to his prize from last year, the Giant Silver Fork.
The event, which took place April 27, packed the Gulfport Casino with eight competing chefs and more than 250 guests.
“I’m so proud and honored to have been a part of this,” said Hernandez. “I felt confident coming into the competition, but knew that I would be up against some very good local chefs, that’s why it took me weeks to come up with the right combination of flavors, that once combined I would have a winning recipe.
“Thanks to all the judges who have been given that special gift from God called Taste Buds and the knowledge to choose a winning dish. I’m sure it must have been really hard.”
The winning dish, Pigs in Paradise, featured two pork and cheese empanadas served over sweet plantains mash and a ladle of the secret sauce, Intensity Academy’s Saucy Everything. The dish was garnished with a bedding of banana leaves and topped with roasted pimientos, cilantro and a sprinkle of secret spice.
Pipo’s Restaurant was up against seven other top local chefs from:
• Granny Smith Kitchens, St. Petersburg
• Island Flavors And Things, Gulfport
• Serendipity Cafe, Dunedin
• Shubee Shack, North Redington Beach
• Taco Bus, Tampa and St. Petersburg
• Twisted Cork Grill, St. Petersburg
• Wine Madonna, St. Petersburg
“Our chefs stepped it up to bring a showcase of what locally owned restaurants have to offer: outstanding food, fun personalities, and a wide a diversity of styles,” said Mo Venouziou, vice president of LocalShops1. “It is important to the community that we support local businesses, but this event proved the most important thing of all: Local restaurants can provide you with an amazing dining experience.”
Shubee Shack Chef Pat “Shubee” Bearry’s crab cakes earned him the People’s Choice Award and a deluxe LocalShops1 business membership, valued at $200.
Shubee’s entry was a Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cake with a Florida flair, featuring the main ingredient Saucy Everything sauce, and broiled to perfection on top of a bed of fresh hand-cut slaw.
“I’m so excited that the people liked my dish and voted the peoples choice,” Shubee said. “I own a 98-square-foot deli in North Redington and to be recognized by the surrounding area is a joy, knowing a small place has big taste. Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
Top Local Chef 2014 took place in front of a sold-out audience of more than 250 at the casino and helped to raise food and funds for the Gulfport Senior Center Foundation, which offers seniors healthcare, meals and social services.
The judges panel was comprised of five area journalists and bloggers. They included:
• Janet Keeler, Tampa Bay Times
• Isabel Laessig, Family Foodie
• Noah Pransky, 10 News
• Carlos Hernandez, Carlos Eats
• Cathy Salustri, The Gabber
The event, organized by LocalShops1 and Intensity Academy, was sponsored by the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, Gerardo Luna Photographs, A Sweet Statement, ShoutOUT Tampa Bay and Simple with Style Events.
“It is so exciting to see the culinary creations that the top chefs in our community created using my newest sauce,” said Michele Northrup, co-founder of Intensity Academy. “From Saucy Shrimp and Grits to The Ultimate Saucy Crab Cake, I also love that these restaurants, our local jewels, have a night to showcase what they do and shine.”
LocalShops1 is a coalition of hundreds of independently owned businesses and energetic shoppers with the mission of advocating, promoting and offering support services to companies throughout Tampa Bay. Founded in August 2008, LocalShops1 creates sauces that are all natural, award winning gourmet and sizzling hot. In less than four years of being in business they have won 50 national awards, including their Chai Chipotle Chup’ being named the No. 1 ketchup in the nation thru the 2010 Scovie Awards.