Southern Living is the largest regional lifestyle magazine in the country, covering a way of life in all of the Southern states and a few border ones to boot. For people like travel editor Carolanne Griffith Roberts, that's a lot of shoe leather. Not surprisingly, Florida has to be patient for its moments in the limelight.
Roberts, who has been at the magazine for 24 years, heads down to the Sunshine State as often as there is need for columns like "Southern Chef Salute." Recently she found a good reason.
"For this column, we try to discover those emerging chefs who aren't yet a household name. We want to try to find them as they're bubbling up, to give them recognition and a boost," Roberts said.
April's boost goes to David Miller, 27, chef-owner of Savant Fine Dining in Clearwater (2551 Drew St.; (727) 421-9975). He's that delicious stew of audacity, talent and raw enthusiasm. He restores old cars, he creates jaw-dropping sculptures out of chocolate and he runs one of the area's most intimate, gastronomically ambitious restaurants. Oh, and he's got another location on Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands in the works and today he annexes the space next to the 30-seat Savant and opens Cities, a 150-seat restaurant that celebrates the cuisine of a different city each month.
"It's economy-driven . . . and also so-I-don't-get-bored-driven," Miller explains. Rather than a seasonal menu, he is making his new venture an affordable, city-based monthly menu, starting with Las Vegas and working through five familiar cities, including Paris and New Orleans, and six more that aren't (Dubai?!).
Still, what caught Roberts' eye is Miller's work at his flagship restaurant, Savant.
"One thing I try to do with this column is figure out what chefs are doing within a Southern dynamic. I was enchanted with David, and the promise of what he's going to do. It will be fun to see how things turn out with him."
Miller graduated from the Culinary Institute of America as a 19-year-old phenom, going on to learn at the knee of five master chefs. His passion at Savant is unexpected juxtapositions (earthy morel mushrooms and chocolate together in a soup) and stunning plate presentations in an ever-changing six-course tasting menu.
Explains Roberts, "In this column we only feature 10 people a year, so you need to take pride in them. He's one of our special people."
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining.