2018 Fish to Fork Participating Chefs
Daven Wardynski | Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort | Amelia Island
Executive Chef Daven Wardynski has led the culinary team at Omni Amelia Island Plantation since October of 2012, overseeing nine restaurants as well as conference food and beverage operations. With over 20 years of experience in the culinary world, Wardynski began his career at the legendary TRU in Chicago, serving as sous chef under celebrity chef Rick Tramonto. Prior to accepting the position at Omni Amelia Island Plantation, he was the executive chef at the Omni Chicago Hotel for a number of years. Due to his emphasis on supporting local purveyors and his passion for fresh, quality ingredients, chef Wardynski has received multiple honors from the American Culinary Federation, including a Gold Medal in the Chicago National Restaurant show along with coverage in such media outlets as Oprah Radio, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Cooking Light, and Food & Wine.
Waylon Rivers │Black Sheep │Jacksonville
Waylon Rivers is the Executive Chef of Black Sheep Restaurant, a modern American restaurant that has earned numerous accolades from local and regional publications since opening in 2012. He also is a managing partner at Black Sheep at Intuition, a restaurant located inside Intuition Ale Works located in downtown Jacksonville. Rivers is a graduate of Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Culinary Institute of the South, where he studied Culinary Management. Prior to his arrival at Black Sheep, Rivers was the Sous Chef of Georges Brasserie in Charlotte, North Carolina; his background also includes time spent in the kitchens of Restaurant Orsay and The Capital Grille in Jacksonville.
Kathleen Blake │The Rusty Spoon │Orlando
The recipe for Kathleen Blake’s culinary success is rich in home-grown tradition. The Iowa native learned to cook at an early age in her grandmother’s kitchen while helping to prepare Sunday Suppers for a large extended family. True to her childhood love for cooking, Blake worked in restaurants throughout high school; then further developed her passion at the Community College of San Francisco's Culinary Apprenticeship Program.
After working in several restaurants, Blake landed at Square One, where her mentor Joyce Goldstein, taught her the importance of focusing on quality ingredients, prepared simply. Goldstein also mentored Blake on the art of building personal relationships with purveyors. This strong foundation served her well as she worked her way through several smaller restaurants around the country before accepting a position with Drew Nieporent's The Steelhead Grill in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2001, Blake accepted the position as Sous Chef at Restaurant Nora in Washington, DC.; the first certified organic restaurant in the US, where she was quickly promoted to Chef de Cuisine.
In 2003, Blake was recruited as Chef de Cuisine, opening Melissa Kelly's Primo in Orlando at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes. Kelly would serve as Blake’s life-long mentor showing her the ins-and0outs of Orlando’s =local farmers. Together the two organized a cooperative that eventually grew to support many of the restaurants in Orlando Blake and her husband, William Blake, built and maintained the organic garden at Primo Orlando until 2011.
As strong life and business partners, the couple went out on their own to open Orlando's favorite restaurant, The Rusty Spoon, in the Church Street Historical District. The restaurant earned 7 Silver Spoon awards in 2014 including 'best farm to table' restaurant. , Blake is also a 2013 and 2015 James Beard Award nominee and nominated for both Golden Whisk and Community Service Awards by Women Chefs & Restauranteurs
Blake's focus continues to be on locally sourced food, simply prepared, in a comfortable setting. Beloved among the locals.
In 2017, Blake was one of 21 recipients in the inaugural class of the James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program. The program helps female chefs and owners grow their businesses by cultivating women’s leadership in the culinary industry, addressing entrepreneurial business, finance and expansion concerns as well as providing gender-specific training and leadership development.
Joey Ward │ Gun Show │Atlanta
Joey Ward has found a lot of inspiration in the chefs he admires, particularly his grandfather, who was a cook in the United States Navy and acted as a father figure for him. Ward has fond recollections of spending his Saturday mornings tuning into the cooking shows that followed children’s cartoons on PBS. Shows such as “Yan Can Cook” and “The Galloping Gourmet” had him hooked, and he’s been turning his creativity into inspired culinary creations ever since.
“For me, cooking is a form of art. You must strive to appeal to all of the senses simultaneously, and if possible, evoke emotion,” says the passionate chef. “That is a very special part of why I cook – to take something as basic as a person’s need for nutrients and elevate it to a level of emotional stimulus, whether that be through surprise, wonderful flavors or showing the diner a great time in that moment.”
Originally from Powder Springs, Georgia, Ward graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in 2005 with an associate degree in culinary arts management. He began his career in the South as the sous chef at the St. Regis Atlanta but eventually left the hotel to work under Woodfire Grill’s former executive chef and Bravo “Top Chef” alum, Kevin Gillespie. After two years of guidance under Gillespie, he moved on to become the executive chef at H. Harper Station.
When it came time for Gillespie to turn his vision for Gunshow into a reality, he immediately called on Ward to provide his keen eye for presentation and passion for creativity in the kitchen. Ward found Gillespie’s new approach to the preparation of dishes and how they are served to be a breath of fresh air for the Atlanta restaurant scene and never looked back. Beginning as a “kitchen dude” when Gunshow first opened in May 2013, Ward was soon promoted to chef de cuisine in January 2014 and moved into the executive chef role in December 2014.
As the executive chef, Ward is responsible for the overall vision and direction of the restaurant, including both the kitchen and front of house. He is in charge of daily operations, so every part of the guest experience is funneled through Ward and his creative imagination. In his role, Ward strives to create more involved ways to include guests in an exciting dining experience.
“Operating both the front and back of house while also cooking dishes is challenging, but I see my biggest goal as making sure we never stop growing and evolving,” says Ward. “Since Gunshow is a national trailblazer for this type of restaurant concept, I want to make sure we stay on the cutting edge and continue to develop new ways for presenting food, beverages and service to our guests.”
In the kitchen, Ward is focused on keeping the menu diverse. “We don’t ever want the menu to be a safe ride; there are no boundaries within Gunshow’s menu that bind us to one type of food. For example, guests will find a cheeseburger next to an artistically plated dish with 15 different components next to our take on Vietnamese street food – it’s an assortment that diners won’t find all on one menu anywhere else.”
For his own dishes, Ward tries to be personally and emotionally connected to the food he puts out, whether it’s an item he has fond memories of or his favorite dish at a Buford Highway eatery. He’s passionate about pushing artistic boundaries to ensure his plates feature exciting flavors and are aesthetically appealing to the eye. “I’ve always loved creating, and my role at Gunshow allows me to think outside the box on a grand scale."
Ward and Gillespie partnered with Atlanta-based Beautiful Briny Sea in 2015 to create Gunpowder Finishing Salt. The spice blend includes Hawaiian volcanic salt with chipotle, black pepper, garlic, onion, sumac and more with a mineral clean finish and smoky, residual heat.
Ward lives in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta with his wife, Emily, whose online Yelp review of her first dining experience at Gunshow swept him off his feet. When the craft beer enthusiast is not in the kitchen, he can be found running, hiking or dining out. During Ward’s tenure as Gunshow executive chef, Kevin Gillespie has been recognized as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award Best Chef: Southeast in 2015 and 2017 and finalist in 2016. Eater included Gunshow in its annual “The National 38” list of places to eat in America in 2015 and 2016. Ward took home top prize in the James Beard Foundation’s 4th Annual Fish to Fork competition in 2017. He led the Gunshow team to first place victory at the JCT. Kitchen & Bar Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival in 2016 and won People’s Choice Best Tasting Dish award in 2014. In 2015, Ward was named Jezebel’s Best Rising-Star Chef and an Eater Young Guns semifinalist, and Zagat named him to its list of 30 Under 30 People Redefining the Hospitality Industry in 2014.
Shuai Wang │Short Grain │Charleston
Shuai Wang honed his culinary skills in the kitchens of New York City. He currently lives in Charleston, South Carolina. Shuai is the chef and owner of Short Grain, which has won him Eater Young Gun 2016, Zagat 30 under 30, Bon Appetit Top 50 Best New Restaurant 2016, Eater Best New Chef Charleston 2016, and most recently, long list semifinalist Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation.
Richard Jones │Green Door Gourmet │ Nashville
Richard Jones’ journey as a chef has spanned the globe. The culinary adventure began in Adelaide, South Australia, where the multi-cultural diversity of foods, exceptional market gardens, and world-class wine regions provided a broad influence to his palate. After 5 years training under Chef Andrew Fielke at Red Ochre Grill, Richard arrived in Nashville where his work helped fuel its burgeoning food scene.
Whether exploring the range of American cuisine under Chef Brian Uhl of Sunset Grill or honing his catering skills at Cibo Eurocafe, Richard has brought innovative flavor concepts and fresh ingredient-driven cuisine to the forefront of his work. Richard has also staged with Dale Levitski at Trio, Michael Tuohy at Woodfire Grill, and Tyler Brown at Capitol Grill. Richard also developed a personal chef business cooking for many of Nashville's business and celebrity families that provided busy professionals with tailored gourmet meals both at home and work. That successful business led to a position with Dega Tour Catering working with musical acts on the road including Sugarland, Zac Brown Band, and U2.
In the summer of 2012, Richard joined Green Door Gourmet as Executive Chef. This unique position was created to educate consumers, develop recipes to help CSA members better utilize produce, and further the education and encouragement of community supported agriculture in the Middle Tennessee area. Outreach beyond Nashville has taken the chef to Dallas, Texas, to represent Australia at the NRBBQ “Dream Team’ competition; New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was runner-up at the Farm to Table international conference opening gala “Chef Taste Competition”; competitor in Omni Hotel’s Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida inaugural Fish to Fork premier event; as well as speaking engagements and presentations including TedX Ted Talks, Nashville Public Library, and International Association of Culinary Professionals. Foundation partnerships that Richard helps to champion include the National MS Society, March of Dimes, Manna Food Center D.C., The Food Initiative, and Cumberland River Conservation Compact. His recipes have been featured in numerous print & online magazine articles including John Deere’s The Furrow, Edible Nashville, TN Craft Brewworks magazine, Local Table, The Tennesseean, and Rodale Institute. Richard is helping change the face of true farm to fork dining in real time with consumers and chefs across the Nashville foodscape.
Jesse Blanco │Emcee
We are thrilled to welcome Jesse Blanco as our 5th Annual Fish to Fork main event Emcee. As the host of the TV show "Eat It and Like It" Jesse Blanco is, without question, one of Savannah's most recognizable personalities. His laid-back style and ability to connect with viewers and readers remain his calling card following a 24 year career in television news where he covered everything from major sporting events to Space Shuttle launches and Presidential inaugurations. Throw in Jesse’s insatiable desire to travel and explore and you get someone who is only happy learning or trying new things.