Pat Bearry, owner of the Shubee Shack in North Redington Beach, and girlfriend Jaymi Wiesner give the thumbs up during a taping of the reality TV show “World Recipe Challenge” in Las Vegas.
SEMINOLE – Six years ago, Pat Bearry grew tired of his longtime career in law enforcement.
He’d moved to Seminole from Maryland a year earlier to take a job as a deputy sheriff in Manatee County and to remain close to his son, a football player at the University of South Florida. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized he wanted to do something he truly loved for a living; he wanted to get back to his roots.
A self-described “latch-key kid,” he’d grown up cooking for himself after school, concocting meals based on whatever was in the pantry. This love of food and flavor followed Bearry into adulthood.
So in 2009, he handed in his badge and opened the Shubee Shack, a small deli in a 100-square-foot space at 91 171st Ave. in North Redington Beach.
“I decided I wanted to do something I loved every day and wake up with a smile,” he said.
He was uncertain of how successful the endeavor would be, and admitted the first year was rough.
“We had no money for advertising,” he said. “It was all word of mouth. We relied on the community and had them work for us.”
Bearry persevered and the hard work paid off when he was invited to compete against 300 other chefs in the “The World Food Championship,” a six-episode reality TV series filmed in Las Vegas.
The show was filmed in November and first aired in early August on FYI, the A&E Network’s lifestyle cable network formerly known as Bio. Bearry was featured in the fourth episode of the series, “World Recipe Challenge.”
He was invited to enter the competition as a “wild card” by one of his shop’s regulars, Ray Lampe, a barbecue champion known as Dr. BBQ who visited Shubee Shack several times a month for a taste of Bearry’s crab cakes. Lampe was a judge for the new show and thought Bearry would be a good fit.
At the competition, Bearry brought along his girlfriend of 3-1/2 years, Jaymi Wiesner, as his kitchen assistant. They found themselves up against chefs from around the globe and from restaurants as well known as Caesar’s Palace. Many of them had teams of five or more assisting them during the competition.
“I’m a deli man. I just make sandwiches,” he said. “I love to cook and have a great imagination, but when you’re there and looking at all these chefs it can be overwhelming.”
And the episode’s primary ingredient was pasta, well outside his comfort zone. But Bearry never lost his cool.
“Everybody who’s watched the episode or watched us during the competition came up to us afterwards and said, ‘You guys are so calm,’” he said. “We flowed so good. It was amazing.”
Bearry came in fourth out of 55 competitors during the first round with his signature dish – a deconstructed Oysters Rockefeller with oysters nestled on a bed of angel hair and smoked gouda alfredo – and a pumpkin macaroni and cheese.
“I really had to do my homework,” he said. “So we did some research. I thought outside the box because I thought nobody would use fresh seafood … and because it was November in Vegas I wanted to do something with pumpkin, which we thought nobody would do.”
As a top 10 competitor, he was invited to cook for a second day, this time using a secret ingredient – bison, which he’d never cooked with before – in addition to pasta, which remained the featured ingredient.
Again, he decided to get creative. He decided to fill gnocchetti with bison, and used hollowed out Portobello mushrooms to contain the pasta.
“The dish looked really cool,” he said. “The dish came out beautiful, and the flavors were really good. I knocked this dish out. I was really proud of this dish.”
But he came in seventh that day, though. Scratching his head, he later asked Lampe why his dish scored so low.
“He looked at me and started laughing, and said that when the judges cut into the Portobello mushrooms, the pasta had swelled up so much it looked like grubs,” Bearry said, reminiscent of a scene from “The Lion King.” “They said I should have put more thought into it.”
But he has no hard feelings. The show was a great learning experience.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” he said. “And it made me think a little bit more about presentation.”
It’s a lesson he’ll carry with him into future competitions.
On a local level, his crab cakes earned him the “People’s Choice Award” at the Top Local Chef competition sponsored by LocalShops1 in May, and he also won the Best at Grassroots Marketing award at LocalShops1’s Best in Biz awards on Aug. 7.
And he’s not done with reality cooking competitions. Later this month he’ll head to Los Angeles to compete on a Food Network show and has an appearance on another show in the works. He can’t publicly announce either show just yet. He’s also submitted his application for MasterChef.
“I‘ve been blessed. It’s been a good ride so far,” he said.
But as he approaches 50 – his birthday is next month – he wants to see how far he can go. He’s hired a new agent who gave him a few words of advice that Bearry is taking to heart.
“He told me, ‘You’ve got a window of opportunity now and the window could close at any time. So do what you have to do to keep it open,’” Bearry said.