By the time you read this, it’ll all be a sweet memory — the smoked pork congee and the salmon belly crudo, the curried deviled ham and the Maple Leaf Farms duck duo, the green curried short rib and the red wine oxtail arancini and the chocolate pot de creme infused with Coppertail Brewing Co.’s custom porter.
If you missed it, you can, of course, visit these chefs’ respective restaurants throughout the year. And if you didn’t get to actually Meet the Chefs in person, I present the next best thing: excerpts from my roundtable discussion with them last month at Coppertail, where they gathered to choose beer pairings prior to the tasting event and hung around to satisfy my curiosity about their high-pressure, highly creative culinary endeavors.
As I told them at the start, I’m not a restaurant critic — I leave that to the estimable Jon Palmer Claridge — but I am an enthusiastic eater, and after having enjoyed each of their restaurants, I wanted to know how they got to where they are.
Ferrell Alvarez, Tony Bruno and Greg Baker had all worked for Blitz at one point at Mise en Place, and everyone recognized that without his pioneering efforts back in 1986, there would be no booming restaurant scene in Tampa Bay.
We began the conversation with Marty’s recollections of what it was like at the beginning, before his business expanded from catering to becoming an influential bastion of New American cuisine.
DW: Tell us about those early days, Marty.
DW: Those of you who have opened restaurants recently — do you think it’s harder or easier now than it was in 1986?
Rosana Rivera: There’s just more zeroes attached.
Greg Baker: I opened The Refinery five years ago with $80,000 in hand and that went just like that. The first week and a half we were open, we couldn’t even afford a sign. Now to get Fodder & Shine opened... more than a million, less than 2 million to get it open.
DW: Does a rising tide lift all boats?
Andy King: And hopefully in an opening you find a solid fan base that’s going to come back after they try the other restaurants.
DW: What are the benefits and the risks of branching out?
Blitz: I like the challenge of it, but I also like the balance, of having a good lifestyle. I’m a pretty hands-on guy, so if I do more projects I can’t be as hands-on as I would like to be.
DW: Greg, at Fodder & Shine did you feel you could do things there you couldn’t do at The Refinery?
Baker: The whole Florida cracker thing [at F&S] was just, well... [laughs] We’ve been restructuring ourselves a little bit, changing our menus around. But it was just another idea, another concept we would work with.