October 26, 2022

The arrival of Tampa Edition and Chef John Fraser marks major shift in flavor and palette of local culture

'There is depth of flavor and sort of a heft that’s expected in what would be considered a great meal here,' Chef John Fraser told CL.
'There is depth of flavor and sort of a heft that’s expected in what would be considered a great meal here,' Chef John Fraser told CL.
Inside his Lilac restaurant last Friday afternoon, Chef John Fraser explained that he’s been learning more about Tampeño flavor.

“I’ve gotten to know what I think the palette of Tampa is, and I think it’s shifting,” Fraser told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, adding that one of his local favorite bites is the cobia collar at Seminole Heights’ Rooster & the Till.

“There is depth of flavor and sort of a heft that’s expected in what would be considered a great meal here,” he said.

Fraser, who earned Michelin stars at his Dovetail and Nix concepts, said he cooks from a position that sees him lean on flavors and textures that are very light, bright and clear. The menu at Lilac—nestled cozily into the western end of the lobby inside Tampa’s posh, new Tampa Edition hotel (stylized “EDITION”)—reflects that with its modern Mediterranean menu anchored in Fraser’s vegetable-forward philosophy.
While Tampa received three Bib Gourmands in its Michelin debut, our restaurant scene was shut out when it came to stars. Much of the chatter around Lilac is about Fraser—who also helms Tampa Edition’s Azure, Market, Lobby Bar and Pool Bar concepts—changing that. The chef said he appreciates his relationship with the revered dining guide, and sees a star as an incredible award for his teams, but admits that his approach to the pressure of earning one has changed a bit over the last decade.

“The Michelin star, it doesn’t change the way we do things,” he said. “We decided that this restaurant, with this level of hospitality, this is where we’re going. We hope to be recognized by Michelin for that, but unfortunately I’m not in a position to kowtow for a star.”

Fraser instead thinks about the rest of everyone else who’ll come to Lilac not as Michelin inspectors, but as fans of unforgettable food and hospitality. “If they say, ‘That was an incredible meal and I can’t wait to come back,’ that’s way more important than one person having a great meal, and I think Michelin would be happy for me to say that,” he said.

The point of view he’s trying to get across is a big part of that. “I want it to be unique and in context of everything else around it, but I also want it to be unique in and of itself,” he explained.

But there wasn’t much time for Fraser to get too deep into that vision. Just beyond his immediate point of view, past a supposed million-dollar marble pool table and immaculate bar, were news cameras lined up for their interviews with the chef. The lobby, flush with tropical plants, was growing increasingly full of guests from a curated list of locals, plus internationally recognized designers, models, entrepreneurs and actors.

Many of those people would attend a private Lenny Kravitz concert at Amalie Arena that night and then pour back into the hotel for an opulent, but markedly unpretentious, afterparty that took over Tampa Edition’s lobby, pool and deep blue Punch Room where Giant Step CEO Maurice Bernstein was DJing.

Ten hours after his chat with CL, Fraser was bumping elbows with A Tribe Called Quest founder Q-Tip, who was DJing the hotel’s Arts Club alongside Boogie Down Productions’ D-Nice. The next night, producer Mark Ronson and rapper Slick Rick did the same thing.

Getting past layers of security and into that space—adorned with at least three dozen disco balls, and big enough for no more than 100 people—felt like trying to defeat the final boss in a video game. Still, combined with perfect weather and a seemingly endless supply of drink and fine food, the experience was nothing else Tampa had probably ever seen—and it ushered in the next phase of development at Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Water Street development.

Early last Friday during a virtual press conference, Edition creative director and partner Ian Schrager (who’s signaled that he may soon focus on a new line of hotels) initially said that some perhaps thought that Tampa, on the surface, might not be a great city for Edition hotels to be in. He clarified that statement in a Q&A, saying that he saw Tampa as a boom town. “It’s Tampa’s time now, I can sense it,” Schrager, who co-founded New York City’s Studio 54, added.
The lobby of Tampa EDITION on Oct. 21, 2022. - Photo by Jason Lowrie/BFA.com
Photo by Jason Lowrie/BFA.com
The lobby of Tampa EDITION on Oct. 21, 2022.

Someone asked about how he plans to make all of Tampa feel welcome at the hotel with 172 guest rooms and suites (plus residences including the most expensive apartment ever sold locally). Schrager responded by saying, “I don’t see luxury as exclusionary. I see it accessible for everybody.”

With rooms starting in the mid-to-high hundreds, that’s clearly not a literal statement, but the welcoming vibe of the hotel is undeniable. Aside from the security maintaining safe capacity levels inside various parts of the hotel during the afterparty, it was impossible to feel like an intruder.

“If somebody didn’t feel welcome there, it wouldn’t be successful,” Schrager told reporters. “If only the critics get it, it’s not successful. If the local people don’t embrace the hotel, it’s not successful.”

But those locals also live in a city where a minimum wage earner with a one-bedroom apartment has to work 86 hours to not be rent-burdened. What’s more is that Tampa Edition has risen in an opportunity zone run by a company that still hasn’t explicitly detailed how it’s using tax breaks to help low-income communities.

Tampa Edition’s success should not be judged by how said company answers those questions—and it’s not the hotel’s job to solve the area’s housing crisis—but the arrival of the city’s first five-star hotel certainly marks a shift in the culture. In the long run, it could change the face of downtown Tampa forever.

At the very least, it signifies that we can, in fact, have really nice things.

See photos from Tampa Edition's grand opening weekend below.
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Lenny Kravitz plays Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on Oct. 21, 2022.
Photo by Loamis Rodriguez
Lenny Kravitz plays Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on Oct. 21, 2022.
Arrival of Tampa Edition and Chef John Fraser marks major shift in flavor and palette of local culture
Photo by Shane Drummond/BFA.com
Arrival of Tampa Edition and Chef John Fraser marks major shift in flavor and palette of local culture
Photo by Shane Drummond/BFA.com
Arrival of Tampa Edition and Chef John Fraser marks major shift in flavor and palette of local culture
Photo by Shane Drummond/BFA.com
Arrival of Tampa Edition and Chef John Fraser marks major shift in flavor and palette of local culture
Photo by Shane Drummond/BFA.com

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