A Chef, A Sommelier And A Baker -- How 3 YPs Craft Culinary Careers In Tampa

The country is having a love affair with food. We tune in to Food Network in record numbers, and propel culinary heroes into the spotlight with book deals. We scour our neighborhoods for local eateries. We Tweet about what we're eating. We post photos of our creations on Tumblr.

And then there are those of us that take it a step further and leap into the new economy with the right tools: education, experience and the utilization of social media. Through hard work and a genuine love of sharing, three Tampa Bay young professionals are distinguishing themselves among foodies.

Take Tampa Chef Nathan Lippy, for example. He's a frequent guest of NBC's Daytime program and he's carved out a promising niche for himself through a clever mash-up of the rock 'n roll influences of his father's contemporaries -- Ted Nugent, Slash, Jimmy Hendrix -- with his love of kitchen icons like Julia Child and Martha Stewart.

Lippy actively participates with his followers on Twitter, posts photos of his latest concoctions, shares new recipes and links to his cooking show. But the Internet isn't merely a tool for self-promotion.

"I used You Tube to figure out how to do all of this," he states, "I used Google to find out how to light a kitchen for film, how to do food photography."

Lippy likely maintained a go-get-'em attitude from his dad, who also acted as his homeschool teacher from grades 6 through 12. While he completed your typical high school courses, he also managed to sneak daytime television into his curriculum.

"I'd watch Martha Stewart from 9 to 10 a.m. and then make something from the show," he recalls. "Martha and my mother were major influences on me."

The latter is a southern bell from Clarksdale, MS who helped hone her son's interest in food from a young age.

"When I was 13, she realized I knew more than she did and she bought 'The Professional Chef' -- it's considered The Bible for the Culinary Institute of America," Lippy explains. The two dived into the book together, tackling lesson after lesson.

An education at the Culinary Institute of America followed, and the foundation for a career full of possibilities was built -- even though he thought he knew it all when he arrived in Hyde Park, New York at age 17.

"I went in a bit arrogant," he recalls, "and I got my butt kicked day one. That brought me back to zero."

After learning from some of the best chefs in the world, Lippy worked in a myriad of New York City restaurants before realizing the bigger picture -- and it didn't involve cooking in a kitchen.

Lippy began filming videos of himself cooking and posting them on his website in 2007 under the title Food, Drinks and Rock 'N Roll. He writes, directs, styles, produces, edits, promotes and composes music for each webisode.

"This is a new era," he says. "I can write my own career."

Jennifer Bingham

Taking charge of your career is something new business owner Jennifer Bingham can certainly relate to. Although a career in the culinary world wasn't always in the cards.

Before she embarked on a study abroad trip to Brisbane, Australia, her grasp of wine consisted of recognizing red from white. At the suggestion of her friend Aimee, Bingham began tagging along for vineyard tours.

"I remember the first tour we did, I had no clue what I was doing," she recalls. "They were asking us to describe the wine and I said, 'It smells like red wine.' "

But trips to the Hunter Valley, the Yarra Valley and the Barossa Valley fueled her desire to learn more. She began to recognize how climate affected taste --Yarra's cool and rainy climate was more conducive to a pinot noir. The smoldering, desert-like conditions of Barossa made for a rich and juicy Shiraz.

When she returned to the states with a dozen bottles of wine in tow, Bingham purchased Karen MacNeil's "The Wine Bible" to build on her wine knowledge. She snatched a part time job at The Wine Shoppe in Dublin, OH during her senior year at Ohio Wesslean.

Graduation led her to Chicago in 2004 and a series of jobs at wine shops followed, each with various levels of clientele. The Market struggled to attract customers and shut its doors. Knight's Bridge Wine Shop had customers purchasing $100,000 of wine a year. Que Syrah Fine Wines in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood promoted her to Wine Director after three months. But her next job at the InterContinental Chicago's wine bar ENO reaffirmed what had been quietly brewing all along: Bingham was ready to be in charge.

Feeling swallowed by the size of Chicago's city life, Bingham and her husband, Torrey, decided to move to Florida, living closer to his family. The couple scouted for possible wine shop locations in Sannibel Island, but knew they were looking for something with a livelier pulse.

"When I got to Tampa, I loved the feeling of it," she says. "There were a ton of places to go out to eat, young people running on Bayshore, and it's people our age."

They settled on Gianpiero's Pick of Vine on South Macdill to open their retail and bar venture, Cru Cellars. The store is currently being renovated to accommodate for the new bar area which will offer a selection of charcuterie, cheeses like truffled Gouda and Delice de Bourgogne (Bingham's favorite), and desserts from Chef Debbie Frangipane.

The renovated retail section will feature gray concrete floors, gray wall tones and an impressive selection of about 350 wines -- more than 50 of which are priced under $13.

Bingham says customers of previous owner Gianopiero Ruggeri are all on board for the changes, which was unveiled to the public at the end of October.

"I'm definitely nervous," she admits, "but we knew we had to grow the business if we were gonna buy it."

One outlet Bingham is using to spur that growth is social media. Cru Cellars frequently tweets about wine specials, suggested pairings and upcoming events. She even started a blog to document the renovations before the grand opening on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Melisa Taylor

Twitter may be the most popular social media outlet at pastry purveyor Melisa Taylor's disposal, but it wasn't the one that helped launch her foray into entrepreneurship.

What started as a part-time job at an Orlando bakery, brewery and restaurant eventually led to Taylor testing her kitchen creations on her friends. Liquor-laced confections, like a Jack Daniels chocolate cake, became a staple whenever the birthday of a friend came around.

But a steady career in baking didn't initially play out the way she wanted. A short-lived pastry job that allowed no room for creativity made Taylor decide to go back to office work for an engineering firm, where she continues to work today.

Online community Etsy, founded in 2005, offers a virtual marketplace of more than 6.5 million hand-made items ranging from crafts to artwork to furniture and food. Taylor soon found that being her own boss meant she could be as creative as she wanted.

She offered her Pumpkin Chocolate Truffles under the profile name "Jane of All Trades'' in 2007 and became one of the site's most popular edible entrepreneurs with 151 orders placed. When an editor from Wine Spectator Magazine ordered her chocolate and pumpkin concoctions, it gave her an extra boost of confidence to further pursue her pastry career.

"It kind of amazed me that someone across the country in Napa Valley liked them," she says. "Maybe I really do have a gift for this."

These days she gets weekly validation of her creations as the resident dessert chef for Ella's Folk Art Cafe. Taylor tests recipes out in her own kitchen at home, as seen here in photographs accompanying this story, and then bakes out of Ella's kitchen after hours for the restaurant. She typically provides two cheesecakes and six bourbon peach cobblers a week for the Seminole Heights soul-food hot spot. And she couldn't be happier to stretch her creativity.

"It's like a cheesecake of the day -- I can do a new flavor every time!" she enthuses. Flavors like tiramisu, orange blossom spice, banana with Nutella and Nutter Butter crust, pumpkin chocolate and occasionally cheesecakes with tea-infused crusts.

"My main thing is to make something that's not only appealing visually, but something that makes people feel good."

Bingham, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, hopes her wine selection won't be the only thing that keeps her customers happy.

"I think the service you'll get here will set us apart from other wine stores," she asserts. "I can talk to a burgundy collector about the vineyards he should be focusing on, but I can also talk to a college girl about what pinot she should try that night, without being snobby about it."

For Lippy, sharing is the correlation between his two loves: music and food.

"I look at food as an art form," he says "and when you share your art with people, they consume it, appreciate it and are satisfied by it. That's the coolest part about food."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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