Turnin’ Up the Heat: LGBTQ Chefs of Tampa Bay

Chef Tampa Bay

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The foodie scenes in St. Petersburg and Tampa are sizzlin’ hot—with a global menu of cuisine that could rival any big city like NYC or L.A. Yes, that’s right; whether you’re craving Asian fusion, Cuban, Portuguese, Mexican or even just good ol’ fashioned American classics, to name just a few, you’re sure to find it here.

The Tampa Bay area is exploding with new restaurants all the time, and the creative forces behind many of these inventive restaurants are just as diverse as the dishes they serve: The community here can proudly boast that behind those kitchen doors, LGBTQ chefs abound. We took a closer look at some of the finest culinary talents the Bay area has to offer, in all shades of the rainbow.

Jeffrey Jew, BellaBrava & Stillwaters Tavern

Jeffrey Jew Stillwaters
Jeffrey Jew Stillwaters is the Executive Chef of 2B Hospitality. Image provided by Jeffrey Jew

Currently the Executive Chef of 2B Hospitality, Jew runs BellaBrava and Stillwaters Tavern on Downtown St. Pete’s Beach Drive. He originally hails from Northern Virginia and began his career managing operations at restaurants in New York City, Miami, and Washington, D.C., following his graduation from Virginia Tech. In 2005, Jew enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he graduated top of his class with a degree in Culinary Arts. As a Chef, he has worked for Chef Gordon Ramsay at the famed Connaught Hotel in London, and also has spent time cooking in kitchens in France and Italy. While living in Washington, D.C., he was the Head Chef of the Embassy of Italy as well as the Chef de Cuisine for some of the city’s most notable restaurants.

Most recently, he could be seen cooking on Bravo’s Top Chefand on Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games. Jew and his partner Jim are proud to call St. Pete home.

What kind of cuisine do you work with?

BellaBrava is a modern trattoria serving traditional and modern Italian dishes. Stillwaters is a modern American tavern.  I have used many of my travels as inspiration for my food with lots of Mediterranean influences, and northern Africa and Middle Eastern ingredients as well.

Tell us about a must-try dish.

I am running our winter features currently at both restaurants. Stillwaters has a great bone-in tomahawk pork chop and BellaBrava has a great pumpkin gnocchi.

Why do you think readers should come check out both restaurants?

We have a great location on Beach Drive for people-watching, both bars are always festive and fun and have great happy hours. Our food is made fresh everyday with innovative and fun dishes and ingredients.

What’s the best part of your job?

Meeting new people, learning every day and teaching my craft to the next generation.

Have you found it challenging to be out as a chef working in the industry?

I haven’t found it challenging.  There have been many chefs I’ve work for that wouldn’t tolerate any harassment or discrimination towards me, and made it known to everybody, which was inspiring.

Has it helped you?

I wouldn’t say it has helped me per say, but it has put me in a unique position to help people coming out, and to those that might have discriminatory views towards the LGBT community.

stillwaterstavern.com, bellabrava.com

David Weiss, Alsace French Bistro

David Weiss
David Weiss is the co-owner of Alsace French Bistro. Image provided by David Weiss.

Weiss brings his native Alsace cuisine to Tampa Bay at Alsace French Bistro in Tierra Verde. He was born in Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France bordering Germany and Switzerland. He trained for two years in a traditional Alsatian restaurant in Rhinau and another year as a pastry chef in a two Michelin Star restaurant in Strasbourg called Au Crocodile, recently awarded Best Gastronomic Restaurant in the world. He currently lives Downtown St. Pete with his partner.

Can you tell us about the cuisine at Alsace?

Alsace is an authentic little French restaurant like you can find so many in the French countryside. Everything inside has been imported from France and Germany, and gives it that unique and charming flare. I grew up with both of my parents cooking all the time. My dad is a big cooking nerd and my mom bakes every week. I was taught since my childhood how to cook, thanks to my parents, and I brought all that savoir-faire to my restaurant. Everything is homemade and traditional recipes are featured on the menu with an original special every week.

Can you share any special dishes or specials currently going on?

On my menu I feature many traditional French dishes like escargots in a garlic white wine cream sauce and beef bourguignon. One of my favorite dishes would be the Morocco salmon over couscous and veggies. It’s a unique dish with a lot of spices and a tender salmon filet on top. I feature a new soup, entree and dessert every week, and since we have a lot of recipes in France but also from our French colonies and islands, it’s very interesting and gives no limit to my creativity.

Why do you think readers should come check out the restaurant?

I think they should come to Alsace because they’re is no other place like this around here. Walking through the door is like being teleported to France—the music, the decor, just the atmosphere is unique, and of course the food is unique and authentic. We offer lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends.

What’s the best part of your job?

The challenge and creativity.

Have you found it challenging to be out as a chef working in the industry? 

No, not really. People are very open and accepting so far, even if in the beginning I was shy not knowing if it would be an issue, especially when you own your business. Guess I was fortunate and lucky.

Has it helped you?

I think it helped me in a personal way to be even more open about my sexual orientation. I am less afraid to tell people, “Hey, I am gay.” I feel more collected now than ever before in my life. And for the business I feel like I get a lot more gay customers over the years—makes me proud that my team and I created that safe and loved place for everyone.


Lauren Macellaro, Executive Chef at Reading Room St. Pete

Chef Lauren Macellaro
Dinner Series No. 2 of 2018, with Chef Lauren Macellaro & Chef Ferrell Alvarez at Rooster & the Till in Seminole Heights, Tampa Florida.

Macellaro is currently Executive Chef at The Reading Room in St. Pete. She is a James Beard Award Semifinalist. She is originally from Queens, N.Y., and attended school in New York at Institute of Culinary Education before training in New York City, Philadelphia and Asheville. She is engaged and currently lives in St. Petersburg.

What kind of cuisine do you work with?

I am trained by Indian and Italian chefs. I love Chinese cuisine, I think it’s beautiful and complex and underrated. I consider my cuisine to be New American, the best ingredients inserted into any cuisine.

Can you share any interesting dishes or specials currently going on?

I have a new dish I am working on, which I am super excited about. It’s a version of a Vietnamese fish soup with pineapple and tomato, Canh Chua Ca.

Why do you think readers should dine out Reading Room?

We give a lot of sh*ts about food service and the details. We are not trying to be anything except an honest place to enjoy time and food with friends and family.

What’s the best part of your job?

I cook everyday of my life. Which I love. It’s artistic, intuitive and explorative. I get to be creative and I get to share that with people, some who really appreciate it.

Have you found it challenging to be out as a chef working in the industry?

No. I don’t let anything like that define me. It’s part of who I am, not all of who I am. That goes for all adjectives to describe me.


Johan Everstijn and Roland Strobel, Cider Press Cafe

Cider Press Cafe
Johan Everstijn and Roland Strobel of Cider Press Cafe. Image provided by Cider Press Cafe

Everstijn and Strobel are the duo and real life couple behind St. Petersburg’s all-vegan Cider Press Café. They relocated from Houston and now live in St. Pete. Everstijn shares his husband Strobel manages Front of House (and makes sure the lights stay on!) while he oversees the kitchen. He trained at Lousiana State University, Raw Gourmets International and the Matthew Kenney Academy, where he also worked as a culinary instructor. Though he is trained to work with many different types of cuisine, his favorite specialization is in vegan—hence, the passion in starting Cider Press Café.

Can you share any interesting dishes for patrons who may not have tried vegan?

My favorite thing to do is to take dishes people have been enjoying in traditional restaurants for years and making them vegan.

Why do you think readers should come check out the restaurant?

So they can try a new take on traditional dishes that are not only delicious but also more sustainable, better for the environment and healthier for them, all the while saving animals’ lives.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love creating new dishes and interacting with our guests and seeing them enjoy themselves eating the food we have prepared for them.

Have you found it challenging to be out as a chef working in the industry? 

I have not found it to be an issue at all. In our restaurant, we have a happy family with many chefs from all walks of life, including gay, lesbian, transgender and straight chefs and cooks.

Has it helped you?

The people you work with and regular guests become your de facto community. We have created an environment in which all people are created equally, with love and respect. Because of the cafe I have made many lifelong friendships with fantastic people I might have otherwise not met.


More fun places to explore in Tampa Bay, click here.

Written by Aaron Drake

Aaron Drake contributes to a variety of publications, including Creative Loafing, Watermark, Amtrak, The Advocate and South Florida Gay News, and is former editor of Gaycation Magazine and Frontiers Magazine in Los Angeles. He currently lives in St. Pete with his playful German Shepherd Delilah.

**Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).

Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida and beyond, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.

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