St Petersburg: international dining destination

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 9:00 AM

USFSP Student Center
USFSP University Student Center
200 6th Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Topic Panelists

Noel Cruz
After pursuing a Microbiology degree and Chemistry Minor at the University of Florida, Noel made the decision to look to the hospitality industry as his career of choice. While in college, Noel took his first kitchen job at Saddlebrook Resort and Tennis School in Wesley Chapel, Florida. There he spent his time cooking in the resort's banquet kitchen facilitating thousands of high-quality meals daily. Noel went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he graduated with honors after fine-tuning his culinary skills and developing his passion for wine. He is certified by the American Sommelier Association having completed the Vinification & Vitification course along with taking the intensive ASA's Blind Tasting Program. He also earned a degree, and subsiquently taught, in Classic Pastry Arts from Manhattan's famed French Culinary Institute. Returning to New York with the intention of cooking, Noel's love of wine pulled him to the front of house. He worked managerial positions at the popular hot spot Moomba Supper Club in Greenwich Village, and later at the famed Drew Nieporant's New York City institution, Tribeca Grill. His interest in wine then led him to the Asian-inspired restaurant, Tanda, where he served as beverage manager, and finally to Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio's New York Times three-star flagship restaurant, Craft. Noel opened Craft's sister restaurant, Craftbar, where he first met Chef Akhtar Nawab, his future business partner. In 2003, he left Craftbar to work on a variety of consulting projects with Celebrity Chef Don Pintabona whom he first met at Tribeca Grill. He helped chef Pintabona in opening Trina Restaurant and Lounge in the Starwood Luxury Property, The Atlantic Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and consulted on the chef's line of food products. Additionally, he assisted the prepared food menu revamp of Gourmet Giant Citarella as well as the launch of Citarella East Café in East Hampton, New York. Chef Pintabona along with world renowned Chef Michael Mina, are the dynamic duo whom are behind the wildly successful Locale Market to Downtown St. Petersburg. Noel then brought his varied experience to open his own establishment with business partner Chef Akhtar Nawab in 2007, Elettaria Restaurant, with great media and fanfare. In addition to managing the front of house and operations, Noel chose the wines and oversaw the list of handcrafted, seasonal cocktails. He offered a distinctive take on American cuisine and mixology to the New York City restaurant and bar scene. In 2010 Noel was the managing consultant on the opening, his tenth, of Ryehouse Restaurant/Bar in the Flatiron District of NYC. He also oversaw business development and culinary contributor to Maharlika located in the East Village in New York City which launched in January 2011. In the fall of 2012 Maharlika's third concept, Jeepney, debuted in the heart of the East Village which Noel is partner and project managed the complete buildout and launch. Jeepney received a prestigious 2-Star Review by the New York Times shortly after opening as well as garnering a wide range of positive media attention. This reinforced the strong foundation these two establishments have developed as the premier forerunners for Filipino Cuisine and Culture both domestically and internationally. He then became General Manager of the critically acclaimed 1-Michelin Star Contra Restaurant, owned by Food & Wine Magazine 2015 People's Choice Best New Chefs New York Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske. Under his watch the restaurant was awarded 2-Stars from the NY Times which also named Contra Top Ten Restaurants of 2014. Contra is located in Manhattan's burgeoning Lower East Side, single-handedly changing the neighborhood's dining landscape. Contra opened in the fall of 2013 and continues to gain world-wide media attention. His newest venture, Ichicoro Ramen, launched in the fall of 2015 to much media fan fare. It was one of the most highly anticipated openings in the Tampa Bay area's hottest culinary neighborhood Seminole Heights. It quickly became a destination restaurant and the Tampa Bay Times listed it #1 in its category of 2015 Top 50 Restaurant list. Ichicoro Imoto (little sister) opened in The Pizitz Food Hall downtown Birmingham, Alabama early 2017. Ichicoro Ane (older sister), the largest concept, opened in Downtown St. Petersburg December 2017 and was quickly named one of Tampa Bay Times' Top Ten Restaurants. Most recently a second location of Ichicoro Imoto launched February 2018 in the hotly anticipated Heights Public Market food hall located in Tampa's historic Armature Works building.
Laura Reiley
Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic and a former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun. She is the author of four books in the Moon Handbook series: Florida Gulf Coast; Walt Disney World and Orlando; Tampa and St. Petersburg; and the Paradise Coast. She has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. In 2017 she was a Pulitzer and James Beard finalist and won the Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement in Florida Journalism.