The winning strategy is creatively combining fusion food with original art, said Gulfport chef and restaurateur Wendy Ohlendorf.
The 9th-annual Top Local Chef 2019: The Art of Food event will be pairing 10 of the area’s best chefs and 10 local artists to create a unique culinary experience, said Ester Venouziou, owner of LocalShops1 of Gulfport who is partnering with Club Savor of St. Petersburg to offer the competition on Sunday, October 20 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Historic Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S.
Chefs will not be cooking on site but rather, will bring at least 250 samples ready for serving to both the six judges and guests, said Venouziou. Judges will rank each dish for taste, presentation and creativity. Guests may also participate with the People’s Choice award by purchasing $1 tickets for each vote.
This will be the first year that Ohlendorf, owner/chef of Vintage Small Bites & Wine Lounge of Gulfport, has competed in Top Local Chef. Jenny Banchero, an artist based in St. Petersburg, has been paired with her and Jill Johnson, former owner/chef of Mangia Gourmet of Gulfport will be joining the team as a sous chef. Johnson competed in Top Local Chef in 2015 and won the People’s Choice award.
For 2019, “there were 10 categories to apply for that were based on types of foods like desserts,” said Ohlendorf. “None really appealed to me except the one labeled ‘other.’ I can do anything I want!”
Names of selected chefs were drawn by random from each category, said Venouziou.
Part of the proceeds from Top Local Chef will benefit Creative Clay, a non-profit based in St. Petersburg that helps people with disabilities express themselves through access to the arts, said Venouziou.
For more about the competition and to reserve your seat, visit toplocalchef.com.
Since presentation counts, Ohlendorf has asked Banchero to make her henna art the focus of the team’s entry. “As she’s painting around my world, I’m devising an entry around her world.
“As a designer that specializes in tapas, I am already familiar with making beautiful food. So, I’m going to have her henna the plates or the food with an edible sauce. She will be doing that on site for the six judging plates.”
The food will be nouvelle fusion cuisine decorated with Indian art, she said. “We’re not talking curry. We’re talking about something else. I’m stretching my creative powers.”
And, the curious will need to attend the competition to find out.
“There’s personal satisfaction for me to continue to push my skill level,” said Ohlendorf. “And it’s a way to challenge myself that’s beyond running a business. So much of my creative fire doesn’t get answered as much as I would like it to anymore. If there’s a deadline, I’ll sign up because it exercises that part of my creative brain.”