The Macho-Man Smackdown!

You gotta love when emails come in addressed to “Chef Jesse.”  I find myself looking around the otherwise empty room talking out loud.  “Is that you?  Is that me?  Who exactly was this person referring to?”.   I know, I know, it just makes me laugh.  Once upon a time, a long time ago I watched my sister come home from school and experiment with things she had learned in her Home Economics class.  I got to eat her experiments and was fascinated by the creation of good food ever since.  At the beginning, it wasn’t always good, but thankfully trial has become much more than error.  I cook, quite a bit, and the people who get to eat my food tell me it’s good and ask me to make more.  I assume they like it.  They tell me they do at any rate, so I am sticking with that.  Chef?  Ha.

So imagine my surprise when I was asked by the fine folks putting together the upcoming Savannah Food & Wine Festival to participate in one of their Chef “Smackdowns”.  Who, me?  The TV guy that doesn’t know when to shut up is going to step on to a major stage versus an actual Executive Chef/Restaurant owner and compete?  WITH JUDGES?  Are you serious?  Uhhhhhh, my first thought was “Hey, I cook and all that good stuff, but I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”  “No, no, it will be great!” I was told (insert wince here).  So, I sat there in my office thinking about whether or not I wanted to do this.  Being asked to be a part of the Food & Wine Festival is a pretty big deal. No one will deny that.  There are four “Smackdowns” –I believe- between now and the actual event in November.  An event, I am convinced by the way, that is going to do wonders for culinary awareness in this city.  I cannot be any more excited about what is coming.  That’s later.  Back to reality of the “News Guy” having to cook for fifty people (insert second wince here).  I’ve cooked for large groups before, so that’s not an issue.  The guests at the smackdown, however,  are surely expecting something grandiose.

Then something strange happened.  I heard a voice.  It was my dad, in all of his Cuban macho glory.  “Whattsa matter with you?  You’re scared?  Of what?”.  No, not scared.  Nervous.  This is a big deal.  This is the Savannah Food & Wine Festival.  “Sooooo WHAT?” the voice says.  “Not only are you going to do it, but you are going to win.”  (insert significant LOL).   I wish I could tell you that my dad taught me to cook and this was some Obi Wan Kenobi type of apparation to me, but it wasn’t.  In fact, watching my dad cook was like watching a train wreck.  I learned from him….what NOT to do with food.  But dad wouldn’t let me back down from a challenge.  So, I accept.  “Just make sure you are late.” the voice says. “The stars always arrive late.”   To this day I wonder why he was telling me that at the age of ten, but I digress.

I’ve since gone back and dusted off some of grandma’s classics.  I’ve drawn on the flavors of my childhood in Miami.  The good, the bad, and the very ugly.  Crafting a three course meal, certain to put a smile on anyone’s face.  The wine pairing will be perfect as well.  Seafood?  Pork?  Fruit?  Perhaps.  The more I work on what I am doing, the more inspired I’ve gotten. This is going to be so much fun.  Make no mistake, someone tell Roberto Leoci the Cuban Pain Train is coming to Leoci’s Trattoria on July 24th.  I’m not just happy to be there.  I plan to win.  Bold words coming from a TV guy, huh?  Yeah, so what?  It’s not bragging if it’s true.  If I were you, I would buy your tickets soon.  Only fifty seats and we expect this event to fill up.

Burn the boats.  There is no turning back.  For information on how you can be a part of this epic smackdown go to  Tickets are a very reasonable $55.  Three courses from each of us and a wine pairing.  You can’t beat that.  But you can watch me beat the paisan.

Quick Bytes

  • On a much more serious note, the list of participants for the Savannah Food & Wine Festival is pretty incredible for a first year event.  As buzz continues to grow, I expect near sell outs at all functions.  Take a look at their website.  This is going to be very, very cool.
  • Production for Season 3 of Eat It and Like It continues as we speak.  We have big BIG plans.  I’m like the kid in the candy store.  More on that soon.  Shooting for a September premiere.
  • I’m told Ben Affleck popped in to Betty Bombers last week.  Good choice on his part.
  • The Beer Growler is now open on Liberty and Drayton.  More on that soon as well.

See you on TV.


Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.