A few weeks ago I was looking around on Netflix and 6 hours later I had binge watched the new series The Chef’s Table. It’s essentially a series of 1 hour documentaries each sharing the story of a chef and how their food is a manifestation of their life experience. If you haven’t watched it you really should take time to do so. Without question it’s some of the best content that’s been done on the lives of chefs. One of the overriding themes of the series is that each unique dish a chef creates somehow embodies who they are as a person. When I finished my binge watching escapade I thought, “I wonder what the story behind the dish is at some of our favorite Jacksonville Restaurants?” That led me to firing off a few emails to some of Jacksonville’s best chefs. Their responses became this article. We hope you enjoy this chance to learn a little more about the dishes you’re served at the areas best restaurants. We intend to continue this series so if you’re a chef who’s reading this and would like one of your dishes to be included in the next installment please email firstname.lastname@example.org for info how to be a part of the next one.
Crispy Chicken Livers with hot sauce, celery and blue cheese.
Tom Gray, Executive Chef and managing partner at Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails
The Story behind the dish:
No single dish on the menu captures my entire life story, but the menu as a whole is a culmination of my life experiences and tasting memories.
Our Crispy Chicken Livers are a nod to the fact that I love chicken livers. As a kid, I would pan-fry livers and gizzards and just eat them on a plate. I didn’t know anything about breading or frying techniques back then, so they were a little chewy, but I didn’t care! Since gizzards are a tough item for most people to warm up to, I stuck with the chicken livers when developing the dish for the restaurant menu, and adding the hot sauce, celery, and blue cheese to make them not only even more delicious, but approachable and fun as well. I cannot tell you how many people tell me they love this dish and are so glad we serve it!
The Sloppy Joe is another nostalgic dish for me. Sloppy Joes were always considered a treat when my mom made them for dinner growing up and I still love them. Ours elevates the traditional Sloppy Joe with our house-ground Seminole Pride brisket-short rib blend of beef and griddled provolone on top, but the same classic flavor is there.
In addition to being inspired by my past, I also try to conceptualize dishes that embrace Southern cuisine and uphold our commitment to sourcing sustainably and from local farmers and purveyors. The Pork Schnitzel with “Redneck Risotto” and Chow Chow on our current menu is the perfect example. It takes two classic items – schnitzel and risotto (neither of which are Southern in origin), and combines them in a way that ultimately feels very familiar to people. First, we coat the pork, which is raised just for us in Starke at Cognito Farm, in housemade cornbread breadcrumbs. Then, for the “Redneck Risotto”, we use Jacksonville-grown Congaree & Penn rice middlins mixed with our housemade pimento cheese. (It took a lot of convincing to get the okay from my Wife/Marketing Director to print “redneck” on the menu, but I am a self-proclaimed redneck in many ways, so she eventually consented!) The end result is a cohesive dish that not only tastes delicious, but represents, on one plate, so many mutually-beneficial relationships that we have with our farmers and purveyors.
Herb Roasted Chicken Supreme with Poached Egg, Butternut Squash Brioche Bread Pudding, Shredded Brussels, Bacon, Shallots, and Apricots
Jamey Evoniuk, Executive Chef at The Candy Apple Café & Cocktails; Chef’s Garden Catering & Events; and the Cummer Café
The story behind the dish:
I am passionate about food and cooking for so many reasons, but mostly for the connection it creates. A great meal has the ability to connect people, times, and places. This particular dish takes classic comfort foods that were part of my family dinners growing up and adds a slightly sophisticated twist to the flavor and presentation. Much of my cooking connects my past to my present.
This dish was created for a garden-to-table event I participated in at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, so it has a strong focus on locality and sustainably harvested meats and vegetables. And, likewise, this dish is a great example of how food brings people around the table and the ideas, energy, creativity, and love that is fostered when we all take the time to connect over a meal. I not only love creating food that people enjoy, but creating a reason to slow down.
The Chef: Kenny Gilbert, Chef and Owner Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach
The Dish: Chicken and Dumplings
The story behind the dish: The dish reminds me of my dad and our trips to Youngstown Ohio to visit my Aunt around Thanksgiving time every year. She always made Chicken and Dumplings for my Dad who she basically raised because he was the youngest of 11 children. While in Maui where I was cooking for Ms Winfrey, I decided to make the chicken and dumplings due to the fact that it was cold and rainy that day. Ms Winfrey loved the dish so much and said that it reminded her of Maya Angelou who used to make it for Ms. Winfrey when they would get together.