Make us your home page

Head chef dishes on Ava, opening this summer in SoHo

TAMPA — Michael Stewart, owner of Tampa's 717 South, was in Los Angeles eating dinner at Bestia, Ori Menashe's hot regional Italian restaurant. He was checking out the Acunto wood-fired oven, a very expensive toy he himself had just purchased for his soon-to-open Ava, a collaboration with Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, that is set to open this summer in the Post SoHo apartment complex at W Swann and S Howard avenues.

A young chef stood before the oven's maw overseeing the pizzas and breads. He told Stewart that unless you know how to use these things, they will eat you alive. Stewart was intrigued.

That short conversation led to this: that young chef, Joshua Hernandez, 29, has relocated to Tampa to head the kitchen at Ava — Acunto oven and all. We caught up with Hernandez by phone to get a preview of what Ava will bring to South Tampa diners.

I hear your return to Florida (he grew up in Sarasota) had some other motivation beyond a pizza oven.

Yes, love brought me back to Florida. I had been in a relationship for most of the past 10 years and had been making some clandestine plans to come back to Florida. Then I met Michael, and we started talking about pizza. We had a meeting the next day and hit it off.

Tell us about your previous jobs in the kitchen.

I went to Florida State for viola performance, but I started cooking my last year in college at Clusters and Hops. I ended up moving to Los Angeles and first worked at Short Order, basically a gourmet burger joint part-owned by Nancy Silverton, where I was sous chef and saucier. Then I moved on to the opening of Mess Hall, a New American place where I got the chance to really grind on the line. Then a short stint at Mark Gold's Eva and a little bit of time at the classic brasserie, Palihouse. And then I ended up at Bestia.

What are diners going to see on the menu at Ava?

This Italian menu will be multi-regional. We have a lot that we're drawing from, emphasizing simple, fresh, ingredient-centric dishes that are not about hitting someone over the head with cheese or cream. It's about letting the tomatoes speak.

The salumi (Italian charcuterie) board is going to be central. We'll be doing a lot of that in-house. I plan on using my own bread on that, and Ori gave me some dough starter from Bestia. There won't be a lot of fuss about tall, composed food. It's going to be rustic. The spirit of this food is you use a couple ingredients but they're always the best.

And how has it been to work with local celebrity Joe Maddon?

That celebrity status means a lot to a lot of people, but to me he's Joe and I want to tell him my new salumi ideas. He's passionate about food and wine.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Head chef dishes on Ava, opening this summer in SoHo 04/07/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2014 6:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]