Famous Tampa Bay restaurateurs share their favorite local eateries and tips for young chefs | Food News | Tampa

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Traci Bryant Ferguson, Partner and Chef at Nina Hospitality

In a private get-together in April, Tampa Bay’s top chefs gathered at Mise en Place to meet up, break bread and get harassed by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, who had just two simple questions: who are the unknown or the young and -local chefs or cooks who do not receive enough attention? What advice would you give to a young chef who wants to break into the scene? Here are some important points. See even more responses by finding this post at cltampa.com/food.

Traci Bryant Ferguson, Partner and Chef at Nina Hospitality



Le Petit Agneau, a gourmet pub in the countryside. The chef, James Renew, has traveled and cooked extensively around the world. It’s a casual restaurant, but he brings all that knowledge to the restaurant.

I think young chefs have to be patient. I’ve been in this industry since I was 18 and I’m 37 now. We grew up cutting our teeth in kitchens where people were yelling at each other. I wouldn’t be where I am without it, but I think we need to have a different understanding of how we respect and treat each other and respect each other. Don’t pass your stress on to your employees.

Be patient and kind to everyone who walks through your door, because everyone comes from a different background, which means everyone has something to offer too. Bring them into your support system with their varying levels of experience. Lean on people for their strengths, try to showcase those strengths and don’t try to be the do-it-all, share your wealth with your team.

Click to enlarge Brian Lampe, Executive Chef at Rooster & the Till - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

Photo by James Ostrand

Brian Lampe, Executive Chef at Rooster & the Till

Brian Lampe, Executive Chef at Rooster & the Till

Bryce Bonsack at Rocca as you mentioned, but also Cody Tiner at District South. Steve Franco is doing a great job at Cena. Ben Pomales and Adrianna Siller who are now at Bandit. These are just a few I think will be the future of the Tampa Bay food scene for a long time to come.

I think young chefs need to present themselves in a similar way to a guy like Marty Blitz here at Mise en Place. What I mean is, if you think you’re going to make a scene in a few restaurants and then become an executive chef, it doesn’t work that way. I think you need the experience of working under someone like Marty who has the most amazing palette in this town – I’ve always been impressed with how well he can combine flavors and textures.

You need that kitchen base alongside someone like that, with experience as a leader, to be the complete package and run a very successful business.

Click to enlarge Wesley Roderick, owner and chef of Supernatural Food & Wine - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

Photo by James Ostrand

Wesley Roderick, owner and chef of Supernatural Food & Wine

Wesley Roderick, owner and chef of Supernatural Food & Wine

I eat at Thinh An Kitchen, I take this tofu. And you can never arrive too early, on a Sunday after church the crowds are crazy.

If you open a place next year, I wouldn’t finance with credit cards. I would have mentors, people you can talk to, think about what you think and where you want to go, someone to help you test your ideas. And don’t assume you have the right answer.

In life, you’ll probably never get the right or best answer to anything, so be prepared to ask the questions of other people who’ve been there. they don’t have to give you the perfect answer, just a meaningful perspective so you can learn from it and not have to learn the hard way.

Click to enlarge Chef Maria Sierra, CW's Gin Joint - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

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Chef Maria Sierra, CW’s Gin Joint

Chef Maria Sierra, CW’s Gin Joint

Aaron Kirk in our kitchen is bright and full of energy, I can’t wait to see him grow.

I don’t go out much, unfortunately, and when I get home, I cook for my family.

This business is definitely hard work. But if you love what you do, you will always shine. We always use fresh local ingredients. It’s really important to me, to our restaurant.

Click to enlarge Ray Lampe, Chef and Founder of Dr. BBQ - PHOTO BY NICK CARDELLO

Photo by Nick Cardello

Ray Lampe, chef and founder of Dr BBQ

Ray Lampe, chef and founder of Dr BBQ

Anju is right behind my house. A great young chef Mee Ae Wolney had this food truck, but it’s their brick and mortar, and they have these Korean chicken wings. I love going there. And I love that she uses thigh meat. There are two sauces, one is teriyaki-ish and the other she calls “St. Pete Hot” or something like that, and Dr. BBQ’s secret is to put the two sauces apart and dip. Sometimes I do one or the other, and sometimes I do a combo. And the pork belly is so good. I love this place.

Parkshore Grille, you’re never wrong there, I get the lobster salad, and there’s not much salad involved – I love it. And I love Il Ritorno, it’s our party place, and you can’t go wrong; and you might worry that it’s some kind of waxing place, but you’re full there.

It’s a great time to be a chef if a young chef wants to be serious. I was just talking to Marty Blitz here, from Mise en Place, and normally we have a handful of protected guys hanging out with us, but not right now due to lack of help. So if you get into the business now and are serious, you can move up the food chain pretty quickly and learn a lot.

The restaurants will be here; it’s going to be a good career down the road. We just have a little tight spot right now. I think it’s a really good time to step in, and I’m definitely looking for a protege right now.

Click to enlarge Adam Hyatt, Executive Chef at Breeding - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

Photo by James Ostrand

Adam Hyatt, Executive Chef at Breeding

Adam Hyatt, Executive Chef at Breeding

Bryce to Rocca. Rooster and the Till for sure. It has been interesting to see who is really committed to food, quality and service during the pandemic.

The word that constantly comes up in my kitchen for young chefs, former chefs, people my age is “endure”. You must endure.

We are not in a new era of food or restaurants. We are not old. We are in this transition phase. So if you can sit here and endure and be open-minded and wide-eyed to love, okay, what’s next like what do we have to deliver? What should we offer? If you can’t stand things if you are, if you are determined to do one thing or another? It won’t work, will it?

It’s hard enough to be the talented, passionate and driven leader in any kitchen, but these days you have to be more receptive. Gone are the days of you saying, “I’m the boss, this is what I’m going to deliver.” It has to be, “What do the guests want? What do I want? Who do your people want?”

Because finding people right now is also difficult. It needs to be more inclusive and more of a community of restaurants by association rather than a single voice.

Click to enlarge Zachary (L) and Christina and Feinstein, founders of the Feinstein Group - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

Photo by James Ostrand

Zachary (L) and Christina and Feinstein, founders of the Feinstein Group

Christina and Zachary Feinstein, founders of the Feinstein Group

Wild child in St. Pete. Rob Reinsmith is talented, one of my favorite chefs in the Bay Area.

I think in every restaurant you have this unrecognized talented person. The more people look at their own staff and put food in the spotlight, I feel like we’ll see more and more people emerge.

Young chefs have to be curious, be very, very curious about the business, the front and the back of the house, it all counts. I think that’s really important. Don’t be afraid to show your own talent. If you feel like you have a good item on the menu, take it to the owners, take it to your managers, and show them you’ve got what it takes.

For our organization, we will look at the willingness to work, we are not necessarily looking for skills. You don’t hire someone for their skills. You hire someone for who they are and teach them those skills. And I think that opportunity presents itself to a lot of young cooks. So if you can identify that person, sit down with them, determine that they have the will to do the job, and you can show them the skills, then you can see someone evolve. We were lucky. A few people from our organization have been through it, and it’s super cool to watch.

Click to enlarge Noel Cruz, Chef and Founder of Ichicoro, Gangchu - PHOTO BY JAMES OSTRAND

Photo by James Ostrand

Noel Cruz, leader and founder of Ichicoro, Gangchu

Noel Cruz, leader and founder of Ichicoro, Gangchu

Restaurants need to remember the human factor. We want to build teams in a positive way. Our job is not just to come up with ideas, that’s the part that’s stereotyped.

When you’re building a team, you have to address a lot of things that need to change in this industry. If our teams are going to be our second family, then our job is to nurture them so they can do a better job than us.

It’s important to be fair. This goes for every part of the restaurant, front and back. You need to listen more than talk. You have to understand the other person that way, not only can you lead by example, but with a lot of mutual respect.

Gladys T. Hensley