UPDATED: June 21, 2013
Earlier this year, Best Chefs America announced its “ultimate chef’s guide to chefs.” Nominations were made by fellow chefs, other culinary professionals and food enthusiasts; 19 Jacksonville-area chefs made the cut.
Granted, I didn’t go to culinary school (unless you count the six-week Basics of Culinary course I took at Publix Apron’s Cooking School ... which was awesome, by the way). I’ve never worked in a restaurant (unless you count the two weeks I worked as a banquet server at Harbormaster’s ... did I just date myself with that reference?). I’m not a food critic (despite my inserting myself into any food judging opportunity in town ... Barbecue? Check. Gumbo? Check. Food trucks? Check.) I do, however, consider myself a food enthusiastic (have you seen the size of my butt?) and, therefore, feel qualified to add five names to the list that were not acknowledged.
Chef Andrew Ferenc, On the Fly Food Truck
Best grilled cheese in town. Best chicken tacos in town. Best crab cake sliders in town. Best tomato shrimp bisque in town. And award-winning peanut butter pretzel bars that belong in a category of awesomeness all their own. I have never had anything at OTF that was not A+. Cooking since the age of 15 (and it shows), Andrew has worked at First Street Grill, Aqua Grill and Homestead. In addition to winning the inaugural and second annual Jax Truckies Competition as the judges’ overall champion and the people’s choice, OTF won Best Food Truck in Folio’s Best of Jax issue. Special shout out to Phyllis and Chef Eric.
Aurathai Sellas, Taste of Thai
“Aura” as she’s known to her devoted customers single-handedly changed my opinion of Thai food. Prior to visiting TOT, I was not a fan of the cuisine. But one bite into a crispy spring roll, and I was hooked. Matter of fact, when asked to choose my “last meal,” I'd pick Aura’s chicken padt siew, which, by the way, I order so frequently she actually refers to me AS “chicken padt siew.” She’s also the sweetest, most cheerful proprietess in the history of Jacksonville restaurants. Special shout out to Justin and Nuie (sorry, if I butchered your name).
Celestia Mobley, Soul Food Bistro and Cleota’s Southern American Cuisine
Three words: mac and cheese. Oprah may have proclaimed Delilah’s at the Terminal in Philadelphia the best mac and cheese in America, but she is wrong. Yes, I said it: Oprah is wrong. The best mac and cheese in America is Celestia’s. Everything on her menu, in fact, is amazing from the fried chicken to the cornbread to the desserts. Cleota’s also features one of the most creative—and delicious—treats I’ve ever shoved in my appetizer hole: oxtail wontons.
Hollis Wilder, Sweet! by Holly and author of "Savory Bites"
Cupcakes to me are like kryptonite to Superman. And I am utterly powerless to Hollis’. Matter of fact, I think I just drooled on the keyboard at the mere thought of her black and gold, cinnamon swirl and plain jane cupcakes. Sweets aren’t the only thing that Hollis has cooking, though. The three-time winner of Food Network’s "Cupcake Wars" is the author of "Savory Bites: Making Mini Meals In Your Cupcake Pan" chock full of sweet and savory mini-meals, like tomato-basil Charlottes and french toasties, perfectly proportioned and portable, prepared right in a cupcake pan. Genius.
Chris and Robin Sorensen, Firehouse Subs
Dear food snobs, who may question the inclusion of the founders of a fast casual restaurant chain on this list: I’d like to see you create a sandwich that’s as delicious as the Hook & Ladder, Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket or New York Steamer (please, keep your Cleveland jokes to yourself). I have tried coming up with my own original sandwich before, and let me tell you, it is not as easy as it looks. Sandwich savants Chris and Robin personally created each item on the menu. They even use the phrase “flavor profiles”—to describe a sandwich! Special shoutout to Cecily and, of course, Capt. Sorensen.
Check out the "official" list of local Best Chef America winners here.
Agree? Disagree? Share your comments (about the chefs, not me) below.