Why Is Florida the Only State With Its Own Chef?

Categories: Florida Food
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The Lifestyle section of yesterday's Washington Post via the Associated Press gave a shoutout to our state as the only one with its own chef. Justin Timineri is "on the cusp of celebrity," this "cheerleader of Florida food." 

Why celebrity? As a spokesperson for one of the top three farming states -- along with Texas and California -- he's talking up the Fresh From Florida campaign, as well as hosting the cooking aspect of How to Do Florida on Fox Sports. His charisma helps, but a celebrity bureaucrat chef? We thought that was reserved for Sam Kass.

Timineri had been an assistant chef at the governor's mansion for 12 years before he was hired as the state chef out of Tallahassee in 2006. The position was created in the '90s in conjunction with the campaign.

The chef is spearheading -- if not sexy -- some practical, do-good initiatives, like planning menus for food-stamp programs and jetting around the world to talk up Florida foods.

His newest gig this year is to educate folks on the changes in the school lunch program. The recently overhauled regulations -- touted by First Lady Michelle Obama -- will ensure a doubling of and greater variety of fruits and vegetables; more whole-grain foods; calorie adjustments such as no more sugar-laden canned fruits; lower saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium; and the elimination of the sale of whole milk.

"Our challenge right now is to get a steady supply of local, seasonal produce, to help schools understand the growing season, and to educate workers to help them in menu planning," Timineri told Clean Plate Charlie.

It's not just kids who need help understanding why eating in-season foods is preferable. "We're slower than some other areas in terms of awareness, but we're coming along," said Timineri. "Farmers hadn't been cool for such a long time, but as chefs gain popularity, so do farmers, and so does eating locally and in-season. People in Florida are catching on, and they're looking back to how we ate many years ago as an ideal."

Eating local and in-season is also a challenge for home cooks. "So many people still looking up recipes and go to the market to buy those goods. What I want to see is more people finding out what's at peak season and what's fresh, buy those items, then find the recipe," he said. "We have to bring people out of the mindset that everything is available all of the time."  


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