VOTE via Facebook for Chef to Challenge Roy Villacrusis at Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival Grand Chef Throwdown

Categories: Food Festivals

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Chef Eric Grutka

Born and raised in Ithica, New York, Grutka moved to Stuart in 1983, where he quickly learned to love the sights and sounds of the kitchen.

"My best friend growing up, his mother did a lot baking and cooking, and as a young child I was just around that all the time," Grutka told Clean Plate Charlie. "I think that, somewhere, it made me appreciate cooking on a different level."

Since that time, Grutka began working in the restaurant industry long before he owned his own establishment. Like most self-made chefs, he did it all: dishwashing, bussing, serving.

"I started working when I was 14, but I remember my first day in the kitchen. One day, one of our chefs didn't show up, and they asked me to help out," said Grutka. The rest is history.

Since that time Grutka has bounced back and forth from back of house to front, working in both kitchen and managerial positions. High-volume experience came as a corporate trainer for Ruby Tuesday, opening restaurants and assisting staff with the routine of day-to-day operations.

A string of high-end establishments in the Port St. Lucie area followed, including Guytano's in Stuart, 11 Maple Street in Jensen Beach, Islands Fish Grill in Melbourne, Pearl's Bistro in Vero Beach, and The Mango Tree Restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

Today, Grutka is owner of Crush Wine Bar in downtown Stuart, a place that highlights everything craft -- mostly small vintner wines to micro brews. The real cooking happens at his other establishment, Ian's Tropical Grill, which he opened in Stuart in 2001. As both owner and executive chef of the small eatery, Grutka experiments daily, rotating an ever-changing menu of 15 or so appetizers and about a dozen entrees covering his preference for modern American cuisine. Fresh meats, fish and local, organic produce are delivered daily, he said, making Ian's a touch of farm to table fare.

"Before I bought Ian's, a lot of my influence revolved around Florida flavors -- tropical dishes," said Grutka. "Since then, I've really evolved as a chef, and my flavor profiles have moved away from fruity to create a more balanced dish. I'm also staying away from too many ingredients, and trying to let the ingredients speak for themselves."Take the more savory appetizer of locally sourced rabbit, highlighted with a housemade ricotta cheese and Meyer lemon crème fraîche.

Still, Grutka's fans can't let go of their favorite dish: Ian's Day Boat Scallops. Although he's tried several times to reinvent the popular panko-crusted, jerk-spiced scallops, the dish has remained on the menu for the past several years at the request of regulars and locals. Served with a garlic beurre blanc, raspberry coulis and homemade mango salsa, it's become one of Ian's signature dishes.

Why does he want to compete in the Grand Chef Throwdown?

"I haven't competed in this event before, but I have participated in [the recent Port St. Lucie] Icon Chef competition, and I won that event," said Grutka. "It was fun competing, and I really enjoyed the experience. Plus, cooking wise, I think I have what it takes. I've been cooking in my own kitchens for a long time."

As for a charity: Grutka said he's like to split a portion of the proceeds between a local holiday toy drive and the Humane Society.

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