ST. PETERSBURG — After a short turn on Bravo's Top Chef at the end of 2012, Washington, D.C., rising star Jeffrey Jew found himself relocating to St. Petersburg's Old Northeast neighborhood. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who had cooked in Florence, London and New York, he was, he said, going to launch a restaurant here.
It took a little while, but that time has arrived. A couple of weeks ago BellaBrava owners Rob Sanderson and Dyce Craig announced that they would open a yet-to-be-named tavern at 224 Beach Drive NE, currently occupied by Bruce Watters Jewelers. And today they revealed the chef will be Jeffrey Jew.
"When Jeffrey moved here he started eating at BellaBrava," said Sanderson. "But we didn't have anything to offer him until we negotiated the new space. We had a cooking interview with chefs at our home, and Jeff just knocked the cooking out of the ballpark. We wanted someone who could bring an eclectic perspective. There was a homey sophistication to his food."
According to Jew, "Timing was perfect. I'd been talking to Dyce and Rob about a potential opportunity, and this was a super opportunity to get on Beach Drive."
The 36-year-old chef won't reveal much about the new concept "still in the planning stages," but he describes a modern American tavern that he hopes will be open during the first quarter of 2015. And what will the food be like?
"The challenge in this town is people are set in their ways and know what they want. The trick for me will be to push the envelope a little bit and get people outside of their comfort zone."
Hiring a notable executive chef is something of a departure for BellaBrava owners. After a fractious relationship with one-time executive chef Domenica Macchia, they vowed to fill the top job in the kitchen with a "kitchen manager," not a creative "auteur."
"But Jeffrey is easy to work with and fits right into the management group of the company," said Sanderson. "It's not 'my way or the highway.' He's not that kind of chef."
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.