As the sun beat down on the opening day of the fifth annual Seminole Heights Sunday Morning Market, Chef Lori Staczewicz of the Mermaid Tavern was feeling the heat.
Her discomfort wasn't from a solar source. It was actually from a lack of fire. Two of Chef Staczewicz's three burners had run out of gas as she faced off against Chef Chad McColgm of Domani Bistro Lounge
during the first annual Chef-Off at the market.
While care-free children hoola-hooped and the Big Picture
band played free wheeling songs from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, she sweated it out, improvising from a large boil pot to saute skillet before resorting to a small sauce pan to finally work up a boil on the small outdoor burners.
Her competitor kindly offered up one of his own burners until the propane cavalry could arrive and restore order to the Iron Chef like showdown.
A steady flow of market goers drifted by the chefs, pausing in the current to snap photos, ask about ingredients and offer the occasional fist bump while a large crowd slowly settled into camping chairs or plopped down in the shaded grass under a sprawling oak to watch the culinary challengers battle it out.
The Sunday Morning Market
contest, which benefits Meals on Wheels Tampa
was set up in the same fashion as the Food Network TV show "Chopped." Each chef was provided with a "mystery basket" which was full of local ingredients from the market to combine with the protein of their choice and whatever they could forage from a first come, first serve free-for-all veggie table.
The patrons for the day included a panel of guest judges; Jeff Houck, food critic for The Tampa Tribune, Chef Greg Baker of The Refinery
, 83 Degrees Media
Managing Photographer Julie Branaman, and Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn along with nearly 80 market goers who purchased $10 tickets to sample the chef creations and cast their vote for a "people's choice" award.
After over an hour of cooking time, Staczewicz of Mermaid Tavern
was crowned the winner of the Chef-Off for her smoked Florida red snapper with Creole sauce. Chef Chad McColgm earned the People's Choice award for his comforting seared pork romesco ratatouille.
When it came time for thanks, the main theme was a mutual appreciation among all for the local talent, local businesses and local ingredients.
Julie and James Branaman are the creatives behind Branaman Photography of St. Petersburg. Julie is the managing photographer for 83 Degrees Media. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.