Leave It to the Pros: Dinner Made Easy
Cooking is fun. Creating a delicious, attractive, good-for-you meal is gratifying on a multitude of levels—probably the same feeling Jonas Salk felt when he invented the polio vaccine.
But you know what can be even more satisfying? Eating. Eating is often more fun than cooking. So, I highly suggest giving some of these personal chefs and caterers the chance to do all that good-time cookin’ while you just sit back and enjoy the fruits (and veggies and pastas and meats) of their labor.
In this issue we spotlight some standout Sarasota meal-makers whose culinary backgrounds would make Julia Child blush. These rock-star chefs and knockout caterers are creating superb dishes served up at your home, your parties and on a beautiful local farm, of all places. The only work you have to do is lick your lips and throw away your napkins.
ZEST! OF SARASOTA
John and Nina Arico have been in the food industry for decades, covering all positions from waiting tables to bartending to creating on-board menus for the sailboats that John captained around the Caribbean.
Now this couple own Zest!, the greenest catering company on the coast. “We recycle all glass and plastic from all of our jobs. All of it—including egg cartons, foam liners from packaging, cardboard, you name it,” they boast. “We don’t source anything endangered or threatened, and buy locally whenever practical, even growing some of the ingredients in our recipes ourselves.” That’s pretty impressive, you guys. And I haven’t even told you about their low-wattage lights and biodegradable flatware! But, what about the food? Well, with that much attention to detail paid to their silverware, you can only imagine the emphasis they put on the quality of their dishes. Catering to Sarasota for the past 10 years has garnered this couple quite a good reputation and with meals in their wheelhouse like Mussels Steamed in Dogfish Head Beer with Bacon, Mustard and Herbs, there’s really no wondering why.
THE LOFT 5
Although The Loft 5 has been playing private chef to an assortment of Anna Maria Island events—from weddings to pretty parties—for the past six years, it’s AJ Latteri’s vision of Farm to Table dinners at King Family Farm, in Bradenton, that has really brought the company’s tag line “Redefining Celebrations” to life. “The sheer delight of being out in the field, eating the food that’s growing behind you … Well, you can’t really beat it,” AJ says, almost wistfully. “It’s just something very special,” she adds. And that it is. Going into their third season at the farm, The Loft 5 team has really figured out farm-fresh dining to a T. During season, these weekly dinners focus on hand-selecting and sourcing every single item, from the menu ingredients to the tablecloths to the antique and vintage touches lining the tables. Beautiful would be an understatement. As would be amazing, wonderful, delicious, and stunning. It’s truly an event that delights each and every sense every single time.
There’s a chance you’ve already seen Craig Chasky, as this chef is a celebrity in his own right. With appearances on Food Network, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and NPR, plus a history of working with some of the top names in the industry, such as Jacques Pepin, Craig has made quite a name for himself. Now that he’s a Sarasota resident, our town gets to benefit from his more low-key approach to life. A bout with Lyme disease in the ’70s pushed Craig to focus on natural foods to fortify and rehabilitate his body. That experience led him to bring that learning into his culinary ventures, now making foods that are rich in phytonutrients, spices and therapeutic-grade digestible plant oils—which are famed for being more potent and effective than traditional herbs on their own. “I’m big on coming into a family’s home and creating a dietary profile to fit their lifestyle needs with an emphasis on improving their lifestyle so they are energized and empowered,” he says enthusiastically. Now, Chef Craig does everything from personal cheffing to teaching at venues across town, from Vom Fass to Crunch Gym. “Yeah, I’ve done all this great celeb stuff, but at the end of it all, I’m passionate about helping people being healthier.”
Chef Jeremy Hammond-Chambers’s culinary resume is the kind of impressive read Shakespeare wishes he could have written. Originally a London-based chef, in 1997 Jeremy moved to New York City, where he sautéed and simmered in some of the city’s finest restaurants, from Restaurant Daniel to Babbo to the acclaimed über-urban chic Public, in the heart of Soho. A Sarasota vacation with his wife, a few years back, cemented his desire to move south and set up shop. Innovative Dining turned on its burners in 2008, cooking for some high-profile clients such as the Sarasota Ballet and Ringling College. Jeremy’s eclectic style, from Asian to Italian and even a little New Zealand influence thrown in, allows Innovative Dining to cater all kinds of cocktail parties and elegant occasions. “It’s important that people know we hand-make EVERYTHING with an emphasis on the healthier side of cooking,” he says, adding, “My food is rustic in presentation but with a classic, refined message behind the way that we make things.” Yup, sounds good enough to eat.
Alicia Collins simply just got tired of “working for the man,” so she decided to start working for herself. Her company, Pure Indulgence, is meant to denote just that: the indulgence of pure, good food. You’re most likely to gobble up these goodies at fun family-and-friendstyle events, like backyard barbecues or baby showers. “Think ceviche shooters and fish tacos made with locally wild-caught fish,” she remarks, with an emphasis on the sustainable side to her business. She partnered up with Mr. Beery’s beer tasting events which helped push Pure Indulgence to the next level, but, after having a baby five months ago Alicia is considering expanding the company to include pure food for tiny mouths, as well.
“This isn’t just a paycheck for me, it’s a passion project,” she says, well, passionately. “I’ve gotten to know local farmers and growers and I want to show people that food comes from a garden, not from a package,” she continues. “Don’t get me wrong: We make fried food, too!” she quips, sealing the deal for me that she’s just about the cutest caterer in town. “My company provides pure food, meaning it’s good and clean, but we want you to indulge in it, it’s meant to be enjoyed.” Amen to that, sister. Amen to that.
“What do you want our readers to know?” I ask Jordan Oliveira-Heller, owner of Gordon’s Gourmet. “We cater to our customer’s needs,” he answers emphatically, with an air of authenticity that lets you know he truly means what he says. His small staff provides premade meals to clients looking for delicious dinners without the grind of going to the grocery store or the rigamarole of a restaurant setting. They also provide in-flight meals for our local airport, feeding such impressive names as the Obamas, Stephen King and Dick Vitale, among others. “I’m definitely proud of what a small company can accomplish,” Jordan says, “but cooking for non-celebrities is how we thrive. Our prepared meals allow average residents to have their own private chef.” Gordon’s Gourmet has a long history of catering luncheons and events, too, as well as providing customized proposals—meaning they’ll cater to your eating habits and your budget—to individual customers for weekly dinner deliveries. “‘No substitutions’ is the antithesis of our policy.”