St John & Partners - They've Got Game!

Kitchen Stadium it's not, but the dishes coming out of the St.John & Partners employee breakroom were focused and full of flavor. The occasion - the second annual SJ&P employees "Iron Chef" competition. At stake - the coveted Golden Whisk, and a whopping $100 cash prize for the winner. Being the connoisseurs of good taste that they are, the good folks at SJ&P invited yours truly to grace the judges table with my worldly knowledge of fine cuisine (and my rapier wit, if I do say so myself). I was honored to do the honors, so to speak.

Presiding over the judges table was event organizer and last year's Iron Chef Peter Eberbach, VP, Director of Online Marketing and Technology (who's ninja ways with goat cheese earned him the title) and two similarly food-savvy fellow employees of SJ&P.

"Cheftestants" drew secret ingredients from a predetermined list. The array of dishes and showcasing of culinary skills was mind-boggling - thank goodness there was wine to help us make sense of it all - dishes came fast and furiously from the kitchen. We enjoyed sampling a stunning array of entries, but in the end we were in close alignment on the winning fare. But enough about the process - Allez Cuisine!

Winner of the Second Annual SJ&P Iron Chef competition - and the coveted Golden Whisk -

Iron Chef Krista!

Her winning dish showcased Mushrooms as the secret ingredient.

Krista's "Portobello Concoction" was a sensuous stack of roasted eggplant, tomato, portobello mushrooms and
ooey-gooey delicious cheese, streaked with a glossy slick balsamic glaze and embellished with more mushrooms, quartered artichoke hearts and fresh basil. Besides being the prettiest plate of the day - just look at that shiny sweet balsamic glaze and those beautiful fresh basil leaves inviting you to tuck in - it was fairly bursting with flavor, a hearty yet surprisingly light vegetarian main dish - I'll definitely be trying to replicate this one at home.

Other featured ingredients included Peppers, Chick Peas, and Berries. A lightened version of stuffed peppers earned second place - couscous shared the space with ground beef (you could make it with turkey) and was topped with crumbled feta.

At third place was a strawberry soup - dolloped with yogurt and accompanied by a sweet-tart salad of field greens dressed with balsamic-blueberry reduction and studded with dried blueberries, cherries and cranberries, cheese and a toasted pecan - proving that not all sweet
things need to be served on a dessert plate.

Testament to its deserving the nod was that it was up against a killer-delicious dish of warm berry compote with cream cheese and home made crisp topping, served with vanilla bean ice cream.

Although it didn't finish in the money, I jus
t can't leave the pic on the cutting room floor. It was the last thing we were served, and we had to shake ourselves out of the sugar coma in order to focus on tallying the results.

Congrats to the winners and all the contestants - and to everyone who pulled off a fun and fabulous event! Well done all! - Thanks for the invite - hope to see you again next year!

I'm fascinated by the rise of popularity of food preparation in pop-culture. Does your company or group hold a similar food related contest? Tell me about it!


A LIttle Bit Of Gypsy In Me...

When I walk through the door of 13 Gypsies in Jacksonville, Florida, a haunting refrain runs through my brain...

"Hiding away,
there's a
little bit of gypsy in me...
Just hanging around..."

By way of explanation, I'm a nerd and I love Cole Porter. Just go with it.

From my first visit to this enchanting neighborhood bistro I was caught in its spell. What Chef Howard Kirk is cooking up at 13G is nothing short of magic. Simple peasant food is prepared with reverence for its cultural heritage. Its an excursion in culinary focus, not fusion. Breads, cheeses, sausages, cured meats and creme fraiche are made by hand, from scratch, using the best organic imported ingredients.

Sauces, dressings and other accompaniments are carefully considered and artfully applied.
Artisanal touches aren't found only in the kitchen, however. The front of the house is a charming space that reminds me of a "black box" theater, set for what promises to be a lively show. Framed art and religious iconography sets a romantic tone, while the harlequin motif counter and byzantine tiled floor lend a whimsical feel.

You know how you go to a restaurant and end up ordering the same thing over and over? That's not how it is at 13G, at least for me. Everything I've tried so far is my favorite.

And I have lots of favorites.

Honey Garlic Hummus - $7
This will smooth the rough edges of of a bad day. Great as a starter or solo with a glass of wine, it is served with 13G's warmed flatbread.

Shrimp Piri-Piri - $9 Fresh shrimp sauteed in a spicy Portuguese ginger-lemon sauce - beautifully presented. Its bright, clean flavors will do the Fandango in your mouth.

Jibneh Arabieh - $8
13G's fresh cheese, perfectly pan seared and artfully presented on a soul satisfying roasted red pepper coulis and scallion oil.

Coconut Mango Curry Chicken - $8
Chunks of chicken breast are simmered in coconut milk and curry sauce, studded with fresh mango and raisins.

Blackened Octopus - $8
Fabulous, but not for the faint of heart. Sections of tenderized spicy blackened octopus.

The 13G Grilled Cheese -$8
Cheese. Bread. Melty, crunchy. Classic com
fort food, grownup style.

Fresh Chorizo & Pears - $9
Chef's handmade chorizo sausage complements sauteed pears and spiced dates. Quickly becoming one of my favorites. This dish was featured on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives!

The Salvador - $8
Chef's chorizo, genoa salami, ham, smoked provolone and black olive relish, pressed in 13G's signature peasant bread.

Warm Artichoke Salad - $9 Chickpeas cooked tender in roasted vegetable stock, blended with artichoke hearts and napped with a warm Parmesan citrus dressing.

Roman Gnocchi - $8
Semolina and Parmesan flats, with a thyme and mushroom infused sauce - balances delicate texture with earthy flavor. When at 13G, do as the Romans do. You'll be handsomely rewarded.

Risotto del dia - (market price) is a true labor of love. The selection varies daily. Bacon Parmesan Cream is heavenly - and the Smoked Salmon with green peas (shown) is more than enough for one diner. Share it with a friend, or take the leftovers home with you for a late night snack.

If we've shared tapas at 13 Gypsies, you know you are special to me. I wouldn't ask just anyone.

On the other hand, if stepping out with this Gypsy is made difficult by geography, I suggest you check the Food Network listings for Diners, Drive-ins & Dives - Chef Howard's handiwork was honored when Guy Fieri and crew visited 13 Gypsies one blustery February day.
We were there to bear witness and blather on about the food - which you know is good stuff when not one, not two, but THREE Jax food bloggers are sitting in the audience raving about it...

I'll close with this pic of my nephew Chris - currently serving our country in Afghanistan - and his lovely fiance Ginger (a fellow foodie who knows her way around a kitchen as well as anyone I know - and she's just 21) - posing with DDD's handsome host Guy Fieri. I was one proud auntie that day, I can tell you.

Chris claims to be Guy's biggest fan - and Chef Howard was kind enough to reserve space for them at 13G during the taping of DDD! He's a real mensch, that one.

And I'm here to tell ya - Mr Fieri is a real stand up Guy as well. I'm not the type to be starstruck - after many years in theatre and PR, but It was great to see Guy chatting and joking around with Chris and Ginger - knowing just how much it meant to them.
Chef H and Guy F are both tops in my book for making that happen. Thanks to Cari S for snapping this pic - and to Jodi K for working her magic too! Good times.

In the words of Cole Porter (yes, again)...

"I can't w
ait to get
the stage all set,
so I can let
the gypsy in
me out."

13 Gypsies on Urbanspoon

887 Stockton St
Jacksonville, FL 32204
(904) 389-0330



Jacksonville - get your Groupon!

I can't say it loud enough! Here's how it works:
  1. Each day they feature something cool to do at an unbeatable price.
  2. You only get it if enough people join that day… so invite your friends!
  3. Check back the next day for another awesome Groupon!
You're gonna want to tell the world about the great deals you got there -

Recent deals I bought:

$12 for $30 of food and drinks at The Fish Company
$20 for $40 of food and drinks at North Beach Bistro
$12 for $30 of wine, small plates and salads at The Grape!

SO - go there now - and check back often!