BIOS

CINDY HUTSON, EXECUTIVE CHEF/ OWNER,
ORTANIQUE ON THE MILE, MIAMI

In 1994 award-winning chef Cindy Hutson met her life partner, Delius Shirley. With an inherеnt passion for cooking, but no formal training and three kids to care for, Hutson was hesitant to open her first restaurant venture. Against the odds and with the extra support of Shirley, Hutson took the leap of faith and that same year opened Norma’s on the Beach.  Rave reviews touted Hutson’s cuisine as “the best Caribbean restaurant in South Florida” and international support from USA Today, The New York Times, London Times, Chicago Tribune, Chef Magazine and Eater, who named Hutson “Chef of the Year” (2012), helped set the pace for what would develop into a thriving culinary future.

Hutson’s culturally diverse and seasonally driven culinary style is heavily influenced by her extensive travel and food history. Her signature “Cuisine of the Sun” is a self-coined approach that means to create without limits and cook everything under the sun, infusing nuances of her famous island flavors throughout. “I thrive on teaching about our earth’s bounties, edible history and utilizing indigenous ingredients that are regionally prepared,” says Hutson about her culinary inspiration, which is apparent in her many regionally-inspired Caribbean concepts.

More than 20 years later Hutson and Shirley have built a culinary empire with the successful opening and operation of more than eight award-winning concepts. Currently, the dynamic duo run their seventeen-year-old love-child, Ortanique on the Mile in Coral Gables, Florida, which opened with Esquire and Bon Appétit acknowledging it as one of the “Best New Restaurants” and Condé  Nast Traveler awarding it as one of their “Hot Table” concepts; and their six-year-old Ortanique on the Crescent at Camana Bay on Grand Cayman Island, which has been praised by Caribbean Journal as one of the “Top 50 Best Restaurants” in the Caribbean.

Hutson published her first cookbook, From the Tip of My Tongue (Story Farm), which received the prestigious 2015 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for “Best Woman Chef Cookbook in the United States.”  In February 2016, Hutson opened Zest, a contemporary fine dining concept, and Zest MRKT for “grab and go” in downtown Miami’s Southeast Financial Center. The 3,500-square-foot restaurant and its adjacent market will both feature menus inspired by Hutson’s multi-ethnic and seasonally inspired “Cuisine of the Sun.” Additionally, Hutson and Shirley opened a Zest concept at The Cliff Hotel in Negril, Jamaica on December 1st 2015, where her world cuisine is now enjoyed overlooking breathtaking views of the pristine Caribbean Sea. The restaurant has been revered as top 25 restaurants in the Caribbean. She is the celebrity chef/culinary ambassador for the Miami Cancer Institute (Baptist Hospital) that opened January of 2017 and developing foods with ‘Miracle Fruit’.

When Hutson is not in the kitchen, she can be found lending her culinary expertise to the food community by hosting events, intimate cooking classes and mentoring young women through the James Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership program about breaking through the culinary world’s “glass ceiling.”  She is a culinary ambassador for Certified Angus Beef and the National Pork Board, and she has served on the board of the Miami-Dade County Culinary Council, Idaho Potato, and Egg Board as their “Egg-cellent” chef. She recently received the American Red Cross Spectrum Award 2017 for Women’s excellence in Hospitality.  

SERENA POON, CHEF TO THE
HOLLYWOOD ELITE

A Leading Chef to the Hollywood elite, Serena Poon’s passion and career for curating healing and wellness programs using integrative health, holistic nutrition and culinary alchemy began long before she started creating contemporary meals, menus and nutritional goodness for the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

Her driven devotion to focus on the importance of whole body and mind wellness is inspired by the profound effect cancer had on her family, with both her mother and father diagnosed within two years of each other.  Recognizing the impact food has on the mind, body and spirit, Serena welcomed a new path in her life and began her career as a Nutritionist and Chef with degrees from UC Berkeley and the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu.

Getting her foot in the door as a Chef for Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, Serena quickly built her list of private clientele and started introducing dietaryhealth and wellness planning into her classic fine dining services. Serena approaches every client with grace and gratitude along with a commitment to investing her best-self and endless knowledge to their well-being.

Serena’s philosophy for living an optimal healthy lifestyle can be achieved by integrating nutritional and physical therapy, focused mindfulness and balancing the body’s support system. With the launch of her health and wellness brand Just Add Water™ in 2018 and the ceaseless expansion of Serena Loves, Serena has brought her philosophy to life and continues to build on her mission to bring new methods of wellness and mindfulness to her clients and customers.

VICTORIA JORDAN RODRIGUEZ
DIRECTOR OF SPONSOR RELATIONS
THE JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION

Recently named Director of Sponsor Relations for the James Beard Foundation, Victoria has been a part of the JBF family for more than a decade.  For the past 7 years, as the Director of House Operations and House Events, Victoria dealt with the physical upkeep of the James Beard House, a 1800’s era, 4-story brick townhouse in the West Village that James Beard called home the last 15 years of his life.  She worked with many of the chefs who have cooked at the Beard House, planning the logistics for those events and managing the wait staff and porter team.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Victoria completed coursework in viticulture and vinification through the American Sommelier Association and spent the first 15 years of her career in restaurants, working in both front and back of house.  She was the general manager of the E. U. restaurant in the East Village and previously, a floor manager at Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto.

She has represented the Foundation at various events around the country including Taste
America, and many Friends of James Beard Benefits.  She is also a certified gelato judge, having been party of the technical jury twice in Rimini, Italy for the Gelato World Tour, as well as in Chicago and New York.

Earlier this year, Victoria was tapped to be a part of the inaugural Junior Board of Food and Finance High School, NYC’s only public school with a focus on culinary arts, working to raise money for the Food Education Fund which allows students to further pursue their dreams in culinary school.

She grew up on a farm in Warren County, New Jersey where her father raised pheasants and she had a pony named Macaroni.  She now lives in Jersey City with her husband Robert and can usually be found searching for the world’s best coffee cake recipe, a delicious pursuit indeed.

CORY BAHR
PARISH RESTAURANT, HERITAGE CATERING & EVENTS

Cory’s welcoming smile and down bayou accent and attitude endeared him to millions of viewers of Food Network’s 2017 Next Food Network Star this Spring, where he made it to the final round. Bahr sings the praises of North Delta Cuisine in his menus at his pop-up’s. Bahr is a culinary leader in his state of Louisiana and deeply involved in the conservation and preservation of his beloved South. He has been a spokesman for the Louisiana Tourism Culinary campaign, a director on the board of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association, and the only non-New Orleans chef serving as a member of the Audubon Nature Institute’s Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries Chef Council.

Bahr, has a national reputation for his inventive take on classic Southern dishes and presents beautifully executed plates with a focus on the past infused with all the innovation and inspiration of the 21st century – honoring everything that’s important in his South: community, culture, and culinary heritage. He’s been recognized as Food & Wine’s ‘People’s Best New Chef’ [2014 & 2015], Taste of the South, Taste 50 [2015] Food Network’s Chopped! Champion [2012], King of Louisiana Seafood [2011], and Louisiana Cookin’ magazine’s ‘Chef to Watch’ [2011].

TITUS O’NEIL, WWE SUPERSTAR

Thaddeus Bullard is a professional wrestler, actor, TV host and motivational speaker, best known as “Titus O’Neil,” one-half of the former World Wrestling Entertainment’s, World Tag Team Championship duo, “The Prime Time Players.”

At a very young age Thaddeus realized that being successful and helping others was important to him.  From that point on, the pursuit of excellence and altruism have been the key motivators in his life.  In high school Thaddeus was a football All-American. He went on to become a star defensive end for the University of Florida, helping lead the Gators to the 1996 NCAA College Football National Championship. Thaddeus also played professional football for the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and in the Arena Football League. He debuted with the WWE in 2012 and has since become a fixture on WWE programming, including RAW, Smackdown and WWE Divas as well as in marquee WWE pay-per-view events such as Wrestlemania and SummerSlam.

Thaddeus’ family and charitable work are key aspects of his life outside of the ring. He and his two sons were recently featured in the Ad Council’s national “Take Time to Be a Dad” campaign and in 2015, Thaddeus won the MEGA Dad Award for Celebrity Dad of the Year. He is also active in many charitable organizations, including the Special Olympics, the Wounded Warriors Project and the WWE’s “Be a STAR” anti-bullying campaign.

MIKE CALTA, RADIO PERSONALITY

Host of The Mike Calta Show, the number one listened to radio morning show in Tampa Bay – 102.5 The Bone WHTP.  He used to be Cowhead.  Plays bass in @pitbulltoddler.  Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay 2017 Best Local Radio Show and Best Local Radio Personality.

JEFF PHILBIN
MASTER CHEF FINALIST
FOODIE COMMENTATOR

The only thing MasterChef’s Jeff Philbin loves more than food and people, is bringing the two together to provide great culinary experiences!

Growing up, Jeff was drawn to cooking by watching Julia Child, Lidia Bastianich, & Jacques Pépin with his mother every Saturday afternoon on PBS. These culinary titans and their appreciation for their craft inspired Jeff to pursue a career in the culinary industry. With a love for guest engagement and interaction, he worked his way up from waiter, to events coordinator, to area sales manager, and then to director of marketing.  It’s a journey which has spanned nearly 15 years.

But it was his appearances on Season 8 of FOX’s MasterChef that introduced America to Jeff’s humble, fun-loving, yet fearless personality.  And it all started at a family dinner, when his brother in law said to him, “Jeff, I signed you up for MasterChef. All you need to do is show up in Orlando. I did all of your paperwork because I believe in you.” At that moment, Jeff’s life changed forever.

Jeff went on to become a fan favorite and one of the most memorable personalities on the show.  It was an incredible experience that has changed him forever.  Back home in Tampa, Jeff began “paying it forward” by hosting weekly MasterChef viewing parties, raising thousands of dollars collectively for local charities.  He is a Leadership Tampa Bay 2018 Class Project Chairman, “Up and Comer” recipient in Tampa Bay Business Journal’s “Top 30 Under 30” list and has served on several boards or organizations.

Between appearances and community building, Jeff pursues his passion for food and cooking as a restaurant consultant, and spends the remainder of his time loving life with his beautiful fiancé Beth, son Holden, & dog Ruby!

DJ FRESH
ENTERTAINER, PRODUCER, ENTREPRENEUR

At the end of 1999, Doug Hensel was working in the Clubhouse and as a Bat Boy for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Major League Baseball Team.  After taking an internship the following Summer in Atlanta to work for TBS and the Atlanta Braves, Doug returned home to find out that a new radio station had taken to the airwaves. This station was WLLD WiLD 98.7 FM.  He realized it would not be easy to simply apply for employment to the station since there was a huge waiting list for the promotions departments Street Team.  He found a way in through the research and development department. There, he was hired into the station and began working on conducting radio music surveys and finding out what music certain demographics of people listened to. After his shift was over at 11:00 p.m. he would wander down the hallway and peak into the studio to listen to the radio stations DJ at the time.  After only working a couple months in the R & D Department, it was decided that it would be more valuable having him as a contributing on-air personality on the 7 p.m.  – midnight show and a member of the promotions Street Team.

From then, each Friday night Doug would make his way to Ybor City in Tampa to the hottest Nightclub destination in town, The Pleasuredome.  This is where Doug met the most well known, sought after DJ and his mentor, DJ Xtreme.  All it took was for Doug to ask, “Can you teach me how to play music like that?” Two months later; he had dubbed him “DJ Fresh” and he was playing music to open the club every Friday and Saturday night.

A few years and several clubs later, DJ Fresh grew tired of the late nights, low pay, fights and all the unpleasant aspects of the nightclub business. His family had convinced him he could be a lot more successful if he opened his own mobile DJ service, entertaining at corporate functions and events such as birthdays, school dances, corporate functions and weddings. DJ Fresh found realized that this is what he was meant to do and would be able to adapt in order to entertain any type of crowd. The DJ Fresh reputation rapidly grew as so did his business. So much in fact that he never actually had to advertise, business grew by word of mouth. Each event provided new referrals and his client base continued to grow.

Years later in 2005, DJ Fresh Events started to really fine tune the business where he hosted and / or organized parties, fundraisers, and other events. His annual Halloween event, St. Patrick’s Day, New Years event, as well as his charity Birthday event attracts crowds well over 1,000 in attendance. His annual Black and White Birthday Event has gained popularity over the years and is where you will rub elbows with energetic party people and celebrities alike.

In 2007, DJ Fresh was asked to become the Official Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Team DJ providing entertainment during and after the games as well as hosting private events for the players. DJ Fresh has also hosted celebrity events and after parties for Rihanna, Chris Brown, Pitbull, LMFAO, Havana Brown, Neon Hitch, The Roots, Shwayze, The Sugar Hill Gang, and even weddings for Indy Race Car Driver Dan Wheldon and professional boxer Winky Wright. DJ Fresh was even asked to fly to Long Beach, California to play at the Welcome Home/Rookie of the Year Party for the Tampa Bay Rays All Star Evan Longoria. DJ Fresh no longer refers to himself as a DJ, but mainly as an entertainer. His record selection, personality, mixed with his energy is what makes him so popular to everyone he comes in contact with.

At the start of the 2012 new year, DJ Fresh is proud to announce that he now has a venue to call his own.  DJ Fresh along with Reign Management, have teamed up to bring Suite Six Bar & Lounge to Downtown St. Petersburg. This new addition to the Downtown district is now the premier nightlife destination in town. Also, in June of 2012, he was asked to join the popular Tampa Bay radio station HOT 101.5 as one of their mix show DJ’s.  In October of 2012, DJ Fresh just received the award for “Best DJ to Change the Game” by Creative Loafing Magazine. The sky is the limit as DJ Fresh continues to host, DJ and entertain at events while bringing the party people the most vibrant and exclusive parties in the Bay.

LAURA REILEY,
TIMES FOOD CRITIC

Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times’ restaurant critic and a former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun.

She is the author of four books in the Moon Handbook series: Florida Gulf Coast; Walt Disney World and Orlando; Tampa and St. Petersburg; and the Paradise Coast.

She has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. In 2017 she was a Pulitzer and James Beard finalist and won the Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement in Florida Journalism.