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This year's Corks & Forks will celebrate the deep southern roots and rich history of Clay County, drawing inspiration from antebellum plantations that once dotted the area and the stunning liquid landscapes that have long attracted visitors to its beautiful springs and lakes.
Enjoy culinary creations born from the region's natural bounty and presented by Northeast Florida's most notable chefs.
Executive Chef and Owner of 29 South in Fernandina Beach, Schwartz became interested in cooking at a young age by helping his mother in the kitchen. He entered the University of Georgia intending to focus on psychology and Spanish literature but soon realized that, for him, cooking was more than a hobby. His change of career plans led him to the School of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, where he graduated valedictorian. As a student, he apprenticed at Carbos Café, one of Atlanta’s oldest fine dining establishments. It was there that he gained an appreciation for the finer side of the culinary arts. “I became passionate about food and this passion has provided the drive that has led me to success,” Schwartz says.
Early in his career, Schwartz’s culinary accomplishments included serving as executive chef at many of Atlanta’s best restaurants, as a food stylist for National Pork Producers Council during the 1995 World Expo, and as a featured chef during the 1996 Olympic Games festivities. In 1998, he was ranked by Gourmet magazine as one of the top 25 chefs in Atlanta and was also featured on ABC World News Tonight in a report about cultural tourism. In 2004, Schwartz cooked for the James Beard House and Foundation as chef for the American Express Celebrity Chefs Tour. Throughout his career, Schwartz has earned several culinary awards and is a member of the prestigious Les Toques Blanches. He was twice awarded Folio Magazine’s “Best Chef Jacksonville” for 2007 and 2008. The previous year Folio Magazine awarded 29 South “Best New Restaurant Jacksonville”. In 2009, 29 South was awarded the “Spirit of Slow Food Award” and a “Snail of Approval”. From 2010-2014, Florida Trend Magazine awarded 29 South the coveted “Golden Spoon”. In 2011, his Coffee and Doughnuts dessert was given the title of one of the “South’s 50 Best Dishes” in Garden and Gun magazine. Schwartz served on the International Advisory Board for the Florida Wine Fest as Culinary Chairman. He is also a Co-founder of the Legend Series.
He is involved in numerous charities and community events and is considered one of Jacksonville’s pioneers in the region’s farm-to-fork movements. His philosophy about cooking is to “baby” everything. Schwartz says “When it comes to food, everything you smell, touch, or do has to be handled carefully because one act of carelessness can destroy the final product.” He adds that he always keeps in mind that he is cooking for others and not his ego. “If I start with a perfect product, take care of it, and present it in a way that glorifies it, the least people can expect is something great.”
Two Best Chef: South James Beard Award nominations (2009, 2010) haven’t tempted Chef Tom Gray to rest on his laurels – if anything they have inspired him to seek new challenges beyond his comfort zone and helped prepare him for his most creative restaurant ventures to date, namely Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at the St. Johns Town Center, and the newly opened Town Hall Restaurant in Jacksonville’s historic San Marco district.
Moxie, which opened in the fall of 2013, showcases contemporary regional American cuisine and cocktails influenced from Gray’s southern upbringing, extensive travels, and passion for sourcing locally-grown ingredients. It is the only locally-owned and operated restaurant of its caliber, built from the ground-up in the highly successful St. Johns Town Center area. Moxie was awarded the prestigious 2016 American Institute of Architects Florida “People’s Choice” award in 2016.
Debuting in April 2017, Town Hall is an intimate restaurant and community gathering spot for sharing good food and drink in good company. Drawing inspiration from seasonal, layered flavors and using ingredients from local farms and artisan purveyors for its menus, Town Hall also offers a selection of wines from around the world (also available for retail sale), creative wine cocktails, and Jacksonville’s finest local craft beers.
Gray appeared in Tastemade’s The Grill Iron I series, which also aired on The Cooking Channel, and in 2016 was a featured guest on Public Radio International’s Whad’Ya Know Show with Michael Feldman, all helping to solidify Gray’s place as one of the Southeast’s most respected chefs.
Chef Sam Efron, a Jacksonville native, developed his culinary style through formal and experiential training. He discovered European cuisine while living abroad as an exchange student with Florida State University. Upon graduating, Efron enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. He refined his skills at landmark restaurants such as Four Seasons Hotel New York, Gramercy Tavern and Aqua (also in New York), and Silks at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco. Upon returning to Jacksonville, Efron assisted in the opening of Restaurant Orsay. In 2009, he opened Taverna with his wife, Kiley. Efron was voted 2017 Best Chef in Jacksonville by the Folio Weekly, Florida Times-Union, and Bold City Best.
Chef Kenny Gilbert is best known for his appearance on “Top Chef” Season Seven, where he was voted Fan Favorite. Throughout his career, Gilbert has traveled the world, staging in some of the top restaurants in Japan, Spain, France and the Caribbean. He has cooked at the James Beard House, participated in wine & food festivals around the country, cooked for the Sports Illustrated Super Bowl party and appeared on the “Today Show,” “CBS Saturday Morning,” Jacksonville’s FOX 30, the LA Times, and as a contestant on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Beat Bobby Flay,” both of which he won. Gilbert has cooked for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Stedman Graham, Ava Duvernay and Jeff Bezos to name a few.
In March 2015, Gilbert opened Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach, FL with his wife Anna, serving seasonal deep Southern cuisine, and in October 2016, the pair opened their second restaurant, Gilbert’s Social, in Jacksonville proper, serving seasonal and creative modern Southern fare with international influences.
This January, Gilbert opened two new concepts – Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen & Bar and Gilbert’s Hot Chicken, Fish & Shrimp – in Jacksonville Beach focusing on modernized yet traditional Southern fare.
Chef Donald Dean has lived in Jacksonville for the past 21 years. Ten years ago, he had no idea what he was getting himself into when he put in his resume at Orsay. He had a youthful mentality of “I want to be a chef” and realized that he stepped into a different world. Since he did not attend culinary school, he had to do things the “old school” way. Dean washed dishes, scrubbed appliances, and picked spinach. You name it, he did it. He had to buy books and conduct research online in order to study any way he could. He learned every technique he could from those around him. Their skills and patience helped Dean become who he is today.
Growing up in the kitchen of Andalucian Chef Antonio Gomez, Chef Howard was born in to peasant food. Under the careful guidance of his mom (Chef Antonia, Sangria House – trained under Chef Gomez and countless Spanish grandmothers) Howard has learned to trust and love the integrity of ingredients. If you start with good ingredients, preparation is minimal and the end result is good, honest food.
Chef Howard has been in love with simple peasant food his entire life. Born and raised in Spain, it was a total cultural food shock to move to the U.S. – food was overdone, over thought, and over complicated. He has devoted the kitchen at 13 Gypsies to bringing his love of straight forward peasant food to Jacksonville.
In early 1999, Chef Howard got the chance to go back to Europe. He lived in Munich, Germany and spent every free moment travelling and eating food. It was during this trip that he met Chef Sergio of La Citta, that blessed him with a knowledge of how to treat pasta, and embrace the concept of minimal ingredients. With frequent visits to Italy on his weekends, his love of simple peasant food was born again. Staying true to his roots, Chef Howard runs his kitchen with a passion for the simple and elegant food of the old world – passing on his love and passion to young new cooks.
Chef Sheldon Harris started his restaurant career in New York’s Hudson Valley when he was just 16-years-old, beginning a long career distinguished by a fascination with food and a love of experimentation. Locally, Harris worked at several Jacksonville restaurants, including The French Pantry, 24 Miramar and West River, and cites Tim Felver and Liz Grenamyer as culinary influences. After serving as Executive Chef at the Continental Club for fifteen years, he became managing partner. The Continental Club offers private dining membership and is a popular site for weddings, hosting 150 a year. It works with over 20 local charities annually.
Mallorie Finnell began working in the food industry at age fifteen. A 2008 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando with a degree in Baking and Pastry, she he has worked in a variety of bakeshops from mom and pop to large scale commercial operations.
During a nearly three year tenure at Sweet By Holly in Orlando, she worked under the direction of then Kitchen Manager/Pastry Chef Krista Newman, creating dessert selections for the opening of Martha Stewart and KB Homes Mabel Ridge Community in Orlando, the United Way Chef Gala at Disney’s Epcot Center, and the Tim Tebow Foundation, among others.
In 2013 she moved to Jacksonville to be Pastry Chef at B the Bakery. She found a home at Biscottis, one of Jacksonville’s best-loved restaurants, where her contributions of new desserts and elegant wedding cake designs have made her one of the area’s most respected Pastry Chefs.
Chef Connor Castelli began his life in restaurants at the age of 14. Years of on-the-job training at The Loop Pizza Grill, Starbucks, The Melting Pot, and his time at The Bolles School and the University of Florida led him to Culinary Outfitters in 2008.
After four years as the Front of House Manager at Culinary Outfitters, Castelli moved to Napa Valley in order to further his studies at the Culinary Institute of America. He worked in a variety of kitchens across the valley, including Clos Pegase Winery, Chateau Montelena, Signorello Estate, Harvest Moon Café, and as a private chef for Levensohn Vineyards. In 2016, Castelli and his wife, Katie, returned to his hometown of Jacksonville where he is now the Executive Chef for bb’s restaurant.
Title Sponsors: The Hilltop Club & Restaurant ≈ Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
Presenting Sponsors: W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc.
Gold Sponsors: Gresham Smith & Partners ≈ Walsh Investment Consulting Group of Wells Fargo Advisors
One hundred percent of the net proceeds from Corks & Forks will be used to benefit St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay County and its vital outreach programs. Join community leaders throughout Duval and Clay County in supporting this event.
Learn more here.
We hope you’ll join us for Corks & Forks 2018. Reservations are $150 per person, and can be secured on the adjacent form, or by contacting Jessica Waugaman at 904.308.7306. Thank you for your support!