Top Local Chef tickets were sold out before the host, the Gulfport Casino, could even open their doors this past Sunday night, April 26. The cooking competition pinned five of the area’s best chefs against each other, all of whom were given instructions to create an appetizer-sized dish that incorporated at least a little Must Thai – Intensity Academy Gourmet Sauces’ “newest creation,” a spicy, creamy accompaniment.
The night’s big winner was Chef Ross Clingman of Marchand’s Grill at the Vinoy Renaissance and his “501 Reuben.”
“It has thin, crispy, caraway cracker bread with corned beef tenderloin and kale kraut,” explained Chef Ross prior to receiving his award.
Judge Ray Lampe, of the Travel Channel and Food Network, explained why the 501 Reuben was so great: “Normally we would corn a brisket, or sometimes a top round or eye round . But I’ve never seen corned fillet. It’s kind of over the top, but it was really good because the texture remained that of a fillet, but with the corned beef flavor. I liked that a lot.”
The People’s Choice award, which was selected by the guests in the Top Local Chef VIP section, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, went to Jill Johnson, owner and chef at Mangia Gourmet in Gulfport, for her ahi tuna dish.
“It’s ahi tuna with edamame hummus and green papaya slaw on a sesame wonton,” said the Mangia Gourmet owner.
The other chefs or cooks in Top Local Chef 2015 were Maggie Loflin, of Maggie on the Move, in St. Petersburg; Jonjie Sibayan, of Pao Truck & Cafe, in Tampa; and John Riesebeck, of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ, in Gulfport.
The Judges Panel featured the aforementioned food writer Ray Lampe, who was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame in 2014; Ramon Hernandez, of Pipo’s Cuban Cafe, who himself is a two-time Top Local Chef winner; Janet Keeler, the USFSP professor and former lifestyles editor of the Tampa Bay Times; Isabel Laesig, the founder of Family Foodie; Channel 10 News’ Mark Rivera; and freelance writer Cathy Salustri.
This year the event also included a Top Local Chef marketplace, which featured a variety of locally sourced food products like Big Momma Donna’s blueberry BBQ sauce, which uses locally grown blueberries, and Brooklyn South, who served up a killer homemade summer sausage with an assortment of cheeses.