Spend any time eating at St. Pete Brasserie and you can sense the passion with which J Ward, Executive Chef, executes his cooking. At 36 years old, he has paid his dues in restaurant kitchens.
His inspiration came from traveling around Europe while his father was in the Air Force. J and his family lived in Spain, Italy and Germany, also visiting most of the other European countries. “Most of my inspiration comes from attempting to duplicate the flavors I remember from spending those 15 years overseas,” he says. “In that time I had the opportunity to enjoy some amazing food.”
He began at Shell’s (seafood restaurant) near USF while attending college. When he graduated, he went out and got the requisite sales position that many college students end up with after their four year trials. But he found out he really missed cooking. He never gave up working in the kitchen and continued to cook while working his day job to make ends meet.
J decided to head into cooking full time and landed a position at Michael’s Grill in Tampa. He began to develop his own personal style and also learned the basics of classical cuisine. He stayed there for several years and learned everything from the making of stocks to the elements of sauces. When he felt he was ready, he accepted a Head Chef position at an Italian restaurant in Tampa. Unfortunately, it only stayed open for a year. To keep working, he started doing catering gigs with Mise en Place and that is where the real magic began.
Chef Marty Blitz hails from Michigan and opened Mise en Place in Tampa more than 20 years ago. Having begun his career at the American Culinary Federation, Chef Marty was an ideal mentor for Chef J. Mise en Place is all about seasonal cooking and using the freshest (preferably local) ingredients around. “Mise is where I really learned how to refine my cooking and give myself a solid background in French cuisine,” J says. “I think I learned more at Mise in the first year then I had learned my entire career. I am grateful to Chef Marty and the other chefs there for making me the chef I am today.”
When Table on Central was looking for a new chef about a year ago, Chef J saw it as an opportunity to expand his repertoire in cooking. However, the menu was not the genre that he felt most comfortable cooking in. While he did an adequate job bringing Table’s menu to life, he was thrilled when Andrew (Wilko) Wilkins took the reins of the restaurant and it became St. Pete Brasserie.
Chef J and Wilko see eye to eye on the basics of French cooking. They put together an inspired menu filled with classics like Confit of Duck, Cassoulet and Steak Frites. The atmosphere in the restaurant is completely different under their direction. It is a true neighborhood brasserie, with a comfortable, intimate dining room that many locals consider their home away from home.
St. Pete Brasserie is located at 539 Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. They are open 6 days a week and they now also serve lunch. They offer a Happy Hour every night from 5 – 7 pm in the dining room (as well as the bar) with half priced drinks and appetizers (including bottles of wine). Mondays they offer half price off the menu and drinks for the hospitality industry all evening.