Florida's Official State Chef Justin Timineri: Bringing Florida "Out of the Betty Crocker Age" | Clean Plate Charlie | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Florida's Official State Chef Justin Timineri: Bringing Florida "Out of the Betty Crocker Age"

Justin Patrick Timineri isn't just your average chef. He's actually Florida's official state chef and culinary ambassador for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

Yes, a mouthful -- we know. But we're betting Timineri has more to stuff your face with than a just a fancy title -- specifically, he has a ton of "Fresh From Florida" recipes to help improve the way Floridians eat.

Clean Plate Charlie had the chance to speak with Timineri to learn more about what being an international culinary ambassador representing the State of Florida is all about. 

Here's what he had to say:

Clean Plate Charlie: Right now, Florida is the only state to have its own state chef. What's the main focus of your job?

Justin Timineri: My mission is to help people rediscover fresh, healthy cuisine. As executive chef for the Florida Department of Agriculture's Division of Marketing and Development, my responsibilities include attending trade events around the world, performing cooking demonstrations, and educating children on the value of healthy food choices and proper nutrition. 

So you educate people about healthy eating?

The biggest part of promoting Florida's $90 billion commodity and agriculture business means more than simple outreach and education. My goal is not only to improve the way we eat -- it's also to change the way we eat. That means utilizing more locally grown and sourced Fresh From Florida foods. 

Cooking should always be fun, simple, and flavorful. It's important to keep nutrition in mind, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to cook with fresh, local, and regionally harvested foods whenever possible.

You're a Florida native, so it makes sense that you're pretty familiar with all that Florida has to offer foodwise.

I grew up here in Tallahassee, so I spent my childhood going blueberry picking, fishing, and farming with my parents. They are really the source of my appreciation for all things culinary.

What are some of your favorite Florida foods to work with?

That's hard. Florida has over 200 edible commodities, so picking just one isn't easy. I'd have to say the tropical fruits are among my favorites. We are so lucky to be able to grow so many of these fruits -- dragonfruit, guava, mangoes -- thanks to our tropical climate. We also have so much good seafood coming from both the Atlantic and the Gulf. My favorite fish has always been pompano, but you can't go wrong with snapper and stone crab either.

What is in season right now?

Right now, I'm really loving Florida avocados. They are a little sweeter and less fatty than the traditional Hass avocados, but I think they are just as good, if not better. I like them when they are a little firm, not too mushy, and I like to use the empty skins as bowls for dips. 

When did you decide to become a chef?

At a very young age. I was always really interested in what was going on in the kitchen, and I was lucky to have the chance to be exposed to many cultures and cuisines right from the start. I decided that if I was going to be in this business, I was just going to jump right in. I started working in the industry right out of high school.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?

I've had so many amazing opportunities, but I would have to say I learned the most from French chef Albert Ughetto [founder of Albert's Provence in Tallahassee] and the former executive chef for the Jacques Cousteau boat Calypso. He had a very regimented French kitchen, and that's really the best way to learn the basics.
What did you do before you became Florida's certified executive chef?

I was executive chef for a restaurant here in Tallahassee called Mosaic, and for the past several years, I was an event chef for NASCAR, the PGA, and the Kentucky Derby -- working nationally and internationally for several premier hospitality and catering companies, traveling all over to cater these large-scale events.

Sounds like fun. What made you decide to switch gears?

I got tired of being on the road, and I wanted something that was more permanent. When I heard the [former state chef] was leaving, I went for the job. I think they chose me because I was ready to take the state out of what I like to call the "Betty Crocker" age.

What's the "Betty Crocker" age?

This position has been around for a while, but only recently has it gotten the attention and press it deserves. Before I came onboard, there really weren't too many healthy meals being promoted on our website -- nothing fresh, nothing that really gave a face to the Fresh From Florida program.

How have you changed that?

Aside from adding a lot of recipes using more seasonal, fresh ingredients, I've also tried to get a lot more involved both here at home and abroad. I've traveled all over to promote our products to places like Hong Kong. Most recently, I was in London for the summer Olympics where I had the chance to cook for the U.S. athletes in partnership with Gulf Seafood. [Timineri was one of eight regional chefs chosen to create signature dishes for Olympic athletes and VIPs in London, giving them a taste of the local area seafood as part of a BP-sponsored "Spirit of the Gulf" cooking event.] It was an amazing experience to bring a taste of the South -- and home -- to our athletes. 

What did you cook?

I went with a pan-seared Florida swordfish fillet served with a fire-cracker relish of roasted corn, tomato and radishes, and finished it off with a blueberry BBQ sauce. All the ingredients came from Florida-based companies and food sourced from Florida farms.

Keep reading for recipes to Justin Timineri's 2012 Olympic Dinner.

Justin Timineri's 2012 Summer Olympics Crispy Pan-Seared Florida Swordfish

Yield 6 servings
6 5-ounce filets fresh Gulf swordfish
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
1/2 cup canola oil
Sea salt and black pepper, fresh ground to taste
Pat filets with paper towel until completely dry. Refrigerate until time to cook. Preheat large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Lightly dust both sides of the filets with parsley and then corn starch. Season the fillets with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Add oil to coat the bottom of the heated pan. Carefully lay the filets in the pan skin side down. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes on both sides until skin is crispy and filets are done. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness of filets.

Spicy Florida Blueberry BBQ

Yield 6 servings
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced Florida onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh Florida jalapeno, seeded
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 cups fresh Florida blueberries
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the blueberries ketchup, vinegar, sugar, mustard and hot sauce and bring to a simmer. Simmer over low heat, stirring until thickened, about 10 minutes. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pass through a Fine strainer or sieve. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Florida Firecracker Corn Relish

Yield 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 small jalapeño, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Florida honey
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups fresh Florida corn kernels (from 4 ears) grilled or roasted
6 medium Florida radishes, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Florida flat-leaf parsley
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
To make the dressing, mix the lime juice, jalapeño, honey and cumin in a medium sized bowl. Add the oil and Wisk until combined. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste. Combine the corn, radishes, parsley and red onion with the vinaigrette and mix well. Season the relish with salt and pepper to taste, serve with swordfish.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna

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