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Food Network personality JAG brings triple threat to Tampa area

Joshua Adam Garcia, a former Marine, attended the New York Restaurant School, though he didn't graduate.

Food Network

Joshua Adam Garcia, a former Marine, attended the New York Restaurant School, though he didn't graduate.

Fans of chef Joshua Adam Garcia, the hustling young cook in Food Network competitions last year, will see less of his smiling baby face when he arrives for the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival.

Not that he's given up cooking or eating arroz con gandules and fried chiccarones. Just working harder at his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts.

A TV chef who doubles as a martial arts fighter? That's not enough for Garcia, who does everything in threes and branded himself JAG for his initials. He's also a musician. "Hear that?'' he asks as he holds the phone to a guitar. His favorites: gospel, hip-hop and Caribbean salsa.

And he started all of it 20 years ago. That's when he says at the age of 7 he drummed with the cardboard rods of coat hangers. That was in the Bronx, where he first learned about cooking.

While his mother worked, he says he made the meals. "They loved my breakfast, especially french toast once I learned to keep them from going soggy in the center.''

And, he says, he worked with his grandmother in her tienda in the mountains of Puerto Rico.

It's all come together into enough celebrity for the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival to invite him, along with ex-Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco, to the three-day event beginning Thursday. Robert Irvine, whose resume-padding cost him a show on the Food Network, was the main attraction of last year's event, along with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

This year, the culinary experts are mostly prominent bay area chefs, including Marty Blitz of Mise en Place in Tampa, Tyson Grant of Parkshore Grille in St. Petersburg and Doug Bebell of Mystic Fish in Palm Harbor.

For Garcia, the festival will be a chance to showcase his post-Food Network career, now based in North Carolina. He has recovered quite well from having to pull out of the third season of The Next Food Network Star because of resume inconsistencies. He had been a finalist.

Now he's back in the kitchen of Stacia's Lieu Secret on the coast of North Carolina and living with his family.

There he cooks some of the fanciest meals in New Bern and champions his twist on Caribbean cooking that he calls Latino Fusione. That's a threesome too: Latin with French technique and strong Italian background.

That means good fish from the coast, Southern pork and Garcia's Caribbean accent. Plus a spice trinity of cumin, cilantro and garlic. And probably a mild touch of hot pepper to "JAG" it up.

"I want the Caribe to have its own cuisines and I want it to be everywhere," he says. He has dreams of a restaurant next year called Firefly and three cookbooks.

Meanwhile his music is on the Web, and he says he's formulating a new school of fighting that combines the close combat of the Marines, Asian weaponry and Brazilian fighting into one more JAGged-up fusion.

Chris Sherman can be reached at csherman@sptimes or (727) 893-8585.

>>IF YOU GO

Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival

Banquets, outdoor wine tastings, a cooking challenge and food and wine seminars, Thursday through Saturday at the Don CeSar Resort in St. Pete Beach. Also part of Thursday's events are a golf tournament at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater
and a 6 p.m. concert by Sergio Mendes at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The three-day event is sponsored by Southern Wine and Spirits and the Abilities Foundation. Ticket prices range from $50 to $300. For detailed schedules, call Abilities at (727) 538-7370 or go online to www.unleashyourpalate.com.

Food Network personality JAG brings triple threat to Tampa area 05/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 12:08pm]
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