tampabay.com

New restaurant stirs up a 'melting pot of Florida'

Chefs at Caretta on the Gulf seek to suit a variety of tastes.

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 28, 2007


Caretta on the Gulf, the Sandpearl Resort's signature restaurant, opened Monday with big ambitions.

Chef de cuisine David Thomas, 28, came from the Peninsula in Chicago. Executive chef Steve Jordan, 37, worked at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. They said they went through 25 to 30 menus before settling on Caretta's bill of fare, which they describe as a "melting pot of Florida," with touches of New Orleans, Asia, South America and the Caribbean. For lunch that means $8 seafood gumbo, an $11 salad with chicken poached in green tea and an $11 smoked ahi tuna melt.

The two recently sat down with the Times' Mike Donila to discuss team-building, last meals and skinny chefs:

What are your goals?

Jordan: There are places in Tampa and St. Petersburg where they're doing nice cuisines, but we want to push it, we want great food. We don't want you to have to go to Chicago or New York or the Old Country to get it. We want people to say, 'Hey let's go to the beach.'

What do you need to do that?

Thomas: It's all about the people we hired. We handpicked a team. We didn't even have a kitchen when we hired, because we were looking for personalities, people who take pride in their work. If you can get those people, which we have, then you can teach them the work. Some of the talent was refined, some of the talent unrefined, but they learned.

If you could prepare your own last meal what would it be?

Thomas: Anything from a pig. I'm a fan of bacon and the pig.

Jordan: Probably a nice steak, my mom's roast chicken and a pizza from a local shop I grew up on.

You guys are both pretty thin. Any thoughts on 'never trusting a skinny cook'?

Thomas: Hey, the way the trend in America is going it's healthier food, people want scaled-down portions, so they can have a couple of things and still have the right portions. We're going to do that.

Jordan: We put a lot of energy into what we do. We're on our feet all day.