Hanna Schneider and Rochelle Seldin

The Fresh Start Café, one from an abundant crop of new Sarasota restaurants, recently opened in the Burns Court area. Founded by business and life partners Rochelle Seldin and Hanna Schneider, the restaurant represents a new beginning for each. Rochelle, a singer, entrepreneur and entertainer, longed for another opportunity “to do her own thing” and work for herself—to make a new beginning. Hanna, after taking a hiatus from the food service business to focus on the couple’s young family, wanted to put her culinary skills back to work. The seeds for the Fresh Start Café were germinated.

With an emphasis on fresh, the menu is well-balanced, offering familiar and unique breakfast and lunch fare (eggs, frittatas, baked goods, soup, salads and sandwiches), all with a Fresh Start Café signature touch. For our meals we had the following:

    • Pumpkin Muffin: Fresh-baked and covered in powdered sugar.  $2.50
      Very fresh, subtle flavor; great with morning coffee.
    • Apple Muffin: Fresh-baked, with chunks of apple.  $2.50
      Very light and flavorful, sweet but not overdone; another great accompaniment to coffee.
    • Burekas: Flaky puff pastry filled with salted cheese. A popular Israeli way to eat burekas is by adding slices of hardboiled egg, tomatoes and black pepper.  Cheese: $3.50; add $1.00 for the “Israeli Way”
      Very interesting pastry; a non-sweet baked good alternative, simple yet flavorful.
    • Poached Eggs over Spinach: Topped with hollandaise sauce, served on rye toast with a side of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $7.25
      A very nice presentation: eggs perfectly poached, colorful, flavorful, and the toast was great.

      La Greca Fiittata

    • La Greca Frittata: Three eggs, spinach and feta baked (not fried) to order in a deep skillet, served with toast, strawberry butter and a choice of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $8.25
      A very filling, flavorful alternative to the omelet; nice presentation, delicious.
    • Going Green Frittata: Three eggs, zucchini, broccoli and chives, baked (not fried) to order in a deep skillet, served with toast, strawberry butter and a choice of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $8.25
      Fresh and full of subtle flavors and texture; nice presentation.
    • Tuna Salad Sandwich: Choice of Italian ciabatta, black Russian rye, wheat grain or white bread, served with lettuce, tomato and onion.  $6.25
      A well-prepared and presented sandwich served with a side of couscous.
    • Thanksgiving Day:  Your choice of bread with turkey, cheddar, cranberries, and horseradish mayo.  $8.75
      Very flavorful and filling, served with a side of pasta salad; simply delicious.

      Tuna on Black Rye

      The Fresh Start Café offers a limited selection of beer and wine to accompany your meal, while offering a good selection of coffee, tea and soft drinks. The wait staff is very friendly, accommodating, fast and efficient.

      Perhaps the Fresh Start Café is an insider’s place, mostly discovered by locals in the Burns Square and Palm Avenue areas. However, the word is getting out about the quality of the food, and the Fresh Start  is becoming a very busy spot for breakfast, lunch or just for coffee—another welcome addition to the Historic Burns Court neighborhood.

Chef Darwin Santa Maria

Chef Darwin Santa Maria and flavorful food may be synonymous in Sarasota. Darwin has created and served his version of Latin fusion cuisine in a number of Sarasota venues for over a decade. Although a number of stories have been written about Darwin’s culinary skills and talent, I wanted the backstory on Darwin’s culinary evolution. Here is what I found.

JLQ: Many things have been written about you, so I would like to focus on something you would like the Sarasota area to know about you but has not yet been written. Any thoughts?

Darwin Santa Maria: Yes, one thought might be the inspiration behind my cooking; that which inspires me to do new things, to keep going. I do not think anyone has written about that.

JLQ: Sounds good. Before we explore your inspiration, can you share your culinary background?

DSM: I was born in Peru, came to Miami as a child, went to high school in Sarasota and returned to Miami to go to Johnson & Wales’ culinary college. I graduated from Johnson & Wales and was expecting to travel. My plans were to go to France and Hawaii, but before I left on such a long journey, I wanted to return to Peru and visit my father.

JLQ: So what happened when you went back to Peru?

DSM: I went back to visit my father and I reconnected with a childhood friend. As kids and families we did everything together, but I did not see her for seven years and now she was a grown woman! We started dating and I decided to return to Sarasota and visit my mom.

JLQ: I presume your plans for travel were altered?

DSM: Yes, I decided to give Sarasota a try and worked in a number of restaurants starting as a line cook and working my way up from there. I was very fortunate to work with people that let me do my own thing and I learned from them.

JLQ: What did your early working experience teach you about the restaurant business in Sarasota?

DSM: I learned there was an opportunity to introduce Latin food and spices to the Sarasota diner. I had purchased some of my own chilies and spices and experimented with certain dishes. We were getting requests for Latin parties and specials. People were enjoying the new food. It was very exciting.

JLQ: Then what?

DSM: Well, I got married in 1999, went from sous chef at Michael’s on East to the Executive Chef of Fred’s and was named as one of the Top 10 Chefs in the nation by Food and Wine Magazine in 2001.

JLQ: That is a great deal of success and stress in a short amount of time. How did you handle it?

DSM: It was all very weird, exciting, fast and uncomfortable. There were photo shoots, wine dinners and autograph signings. I was very nervous and did not know what to expect, but one of the chefs, Michael Anthony, encouraged me to be myself and that advice had a calming influence on me. He even lent me one of his sets of knives for the “cook-off!”

JLQ: What happened when you returned to Sarasota?

DSM: After my experience in New York and the positive response to my food, I decided it was time to open my own place. I found a small space on Clark Road and the first Selva was born. I was nervous but confident we would do well and it was busy right from the opening. A few years later we moved to a larger downtown location. Business was good but very busy and time consuming. Although things were going well, I did not feel satisfied. There were many conflicts happening at the same time.

JLQ: So you were being pulled in different directions at once. How did you resolve these conflicts?

Inspired by Family

DSM: Yes, that is true. The business was taking center stage in my life. This was not good because at the same time my wife and I were trying to start a family. We adopted our first son. My father became ill in Peru, and the demands of the business continued to require more time. My wife decided to return to Peru while I sorted out the details of the business. I decided to give up the partnership and return to Peru. I put my family first.

JLQ: What happened when you were in Peru?

DSM: While in Peru, my wife became pregnant with twins. I had the opportunity to relax and regain my energy and culinary creativity. I thought about opening a restaurant in Peru but decided my heart was in Sarasota. I did some work with other restaurants and then the opportunity to do my own came about and Darwin’s on 4th was born.

JLQ: How will Darwin’s be different for you?

DSM: First of all, I learned from my prior experiences. My passion for cooking comes from my family, and that energy is strong. I know how important that is to me. I am working to maintain a good balance between work and family. In the past everything came so fast; the balance was not right. Now we are starting out with the right balance with room to grow and be flexible.

JLQ: Any last thoughts?

DSM: I know Sarasota is the place I want to be, and Darwin’s on 4th is the place where I want to share my food with friends both old and new.

JLQ: Thank you for sharing some of your previously unshared thoughts with us.

Derek Barnes

People rarely think about the time and attention a chef puts into planning a restaurant’s menu. After all, how hard can it be to create a list of the items being served? In reality, the days of a legal-sized sheet of paper with a listing of dishes are gone. Today’s chefs see their menu as an extension of their culinary vision: something that reflects their restaurant, skill and creativity—not just a list of dishes!

Although it sounds simple and rather mundane, the planning of a new menu can take months of work and preparation to do it right. I caught up with Chef Derek Barnes, owner of Derek’s Culinary Casual, to understand his thinking on menu planning and the process he deploys when planning to make any menu change.

Derek’s Culinary Training and Background

After graduating with honors from the School of Culinary Arts in Denver, Derek went to New Orleans to work with Emeril Lagasse in his Emeril’s restaurant. Starting there as garde manger, within a year and a half Derek had earned a sous chef position.

After four years with Emeril’s, Derek took a position as Chef de Cuisine at the Beach Bistro and then opened Culinary Casual in January 2006. Derek has earned accolades and awards such as Semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef South award, Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, “Most Innovative Chef” in the Best of SRQ Magazine 2009 and a three-time listing in the exclusive Zagat America’s Top Restaurants list.

JLQ: Before we get started talking about menus, can you tell me a little bit about what it was  like to work with Emeril?
Derek Barnes: Working with Emeril was an incredible learning experience. His persona in the kitchen is a lot different than what you see on TV. He is intense, demanding and expects the very best from you all the time. My time there was incredibly educational and rewarding, one of my best culinary experiences.

JLQ: It seems to me changing a menu at a well-established restaurant like yours is no simple matter. Can you tell us how the process works at Derek’s?
DB: Yes. The process is quite involved and requires careful planning and logistics. When we consider changing a menu we are trying to accomplish a few things. First and foremost, we want to keep our existing customers’ tastes and preferences front and center. Secondly, we want the new menu to be reflective of current dining trends and styles, such as small plates.

JLQ: Recently you changed your menu and added quite a few new dishes while maintaining many of the “old favorites.” What was the thinking behind this change?
DB: With our  sixth year of operation approaching, we thought the time was right to introduce some new items. This menu change offered us the opportunity to take the standard legal-sized menu sheet and transform it into a booklet, offering more choices and options to our customers. In essence, we were able to expand in a very cost-effective and affordable way.

Derek at work.

JLQ: So once you decide to make some menu changes or updates, can you step through your internal process?
DB: When we make any menu change we look at it very carefully. We know our customers’ tastes very well and try to plan new items accordingly. Generally, we offer daily special items in addition to our regular menu. Depending upon acceptance and feedback, many of these specials will become candidates for the new menu. Once we select a dish for possible inclusion, we source and price the ingredients, develop, refine and rework the recipe as necessary and then orient and train the kitchen staff. In essence we are providing quality control for the recipe, the ingredients, the preparation, the presentation and the pricing before the dish makes it to the printed menu.

JLQ: So once the main menu is finalized, what happens to the dessert and wine menus?
DB: Planning the dessert and wine menu is a much easier process. Since the wine and dessert menus play supporting roles to the main menu, we design both in a complementary fashion after the main menu is established.

JLQ: Any last thoughts about menu planning at Derek’s?
DB: The menu planning process is ongoing here at the restaurant. We want to make sure the meals we serve are creative and responding to our customers’ expectations and tastes. I can see us changing the menu probably twice each year, which means it is ever-evolving.

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Derek Barnes: Executive Chef/Owner

Question: What is Derek’s Culinary Casual?

Answer:  An absolutely delightful spot for mid-week lunch!

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich: A perfectly toasted bun (warm and crunchy on the outside; slightly charred on the inside) was the ideal vessel holding moist, stringy, tender pork with layers of subtle flavor. This is truly a refined pulled pork sandwich; absolutely delicious! In fact, I nominated it on my Foodspotting page.

Chopped Wild Salmon Salad

Chopped Wild Salmon Salad: A plate full of flavor, color, texture, and goodness. The light, healthy, and satisfying lunch

Chicken Banh Mi

Bell & Evans Chicken Banh Mi Sandwich: An interesting twist of this Vietnamese staple, full of flavor and textures. Once you taste this chicken, ordinary chicken will never do again. Amazing.

Banana Cream Custard

Banana Cream Custard: A signature dessert and one we always order. Also a Foodspotting nomination!

In addition to the above, Derek’s has many other lunch options.

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Derek Barnes

Derek’s Culinary Casual sets the standard for fine dining in Sarasota. With extensive training and experience in the culinary arts, a creative flair and an innovative style, Derek has been pleasing Sarasota diners at his own restaurant for 6 years running. Perennially a favorite amongst critics and customers, Derek’s talent for creating unique, delectable dishes has earned him a semifinalist nomination for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef South award, Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, the “Most Innovative Chef” title in the Best of SRQ Magazine, and inclusion in the exclusive Zagat America’s Top Restaurants listing.

This year, Derek has created a special menu for a “Culinary Casual Celebration” for 2012!

Derek’s Culinary Casual
Welcomes You to New Year’s Eve 2012 

FIRST COURSE 

SEA SCALLOPS & CAVIAR
house made pasta,TaylorBayscallops, caviar, preserved lemon butter

SONOMA-CUTRER, Chardonnay, 2009, Sonoma
14. additional with wine pairing

~or~

BLUE CRAB BRANDADE
grilled corn bisque, blue crab, parmesan & truffle oil whipped potato, tatsoi greens

FRANCOIS MONTAND, Sparkling Wine, NV, France
10. additional with wine pairing

~or~

HOUSE CURED FOIE GRAS
ginger & citrus scented cranberries, walnut streusel, sauternes & vanilla bean vinaigrette

SCHLOSS VOLLRADS, Riesling, 2010, Germany
12. additional with wine pairing

SECOND COURSE

BEEF SHORT RIBS
chorizo mashed potatoes, black olive roasted green beans, crispy onion,
smoked shallot sauce

AMALAYA, Malbec, 2009, Argentina
10. additional with wine pairing

~or~

MALLARD DUCK
crispy roasted ½ mallard duck, house made potato gnocchi,
wild mushroom & foie gras ragout

LOLA, Pinot Noir, 2008, Russian River
15. additional with wine pairing

~or~

ARROZ CON MARISCOS
crispy barramundi, shrimp, calamari & mussels with toasted rice, white beans,
aji pancha broth, red onion & cilantro condiment

LAS BRISAS, Sauvignon Blanc – Verdejo   Blend, Spain
9. additional with wine pairing

~or~

BUTTER POACHED LOBSTER TAIL
parsnip, sweet pea, mint, preserved lemon, vanilla bean butter

HONIG, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009, Napa Valley
11. additional with wine pairing

THIRD COURSE

SMORES CHOCOLATE COOKIESANDWICH
Michigan cherry curd, pistachio crumble

WARRE’S WARRIOR, Special Reserve Port
9. additional with wine pairing

~or~

POACHED PEAR
lavender & honey poached pear, goat cheese ice cream,
black pepper caramel sauce

DOMAINE de BEAUMALRIC, Muscat de Beaumes de Venice, France
10. additional with wine pairing

~or~

ARTISAN CHEESE PLATE
candied pecans, dried apples, guava pâté

PEDRO XIMÉNEZ, Solera 1927
12. additional with wine pairing

 75 DOLLARS, PLUS TAX, PLUS 20% GRATUITY

Please note space is limited and reservations are a must. To make reservations, please contact Derek’s Culinary Casual at 941-366-6565.

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Chef Pavel Hasenohrl hails from a small town 45 minutes outside of Prague in the Czech Republic; where he started his love affair with cooking at the nascent age of 6. Pavel’s initiation to cooking started as a matter of necessity and responsibility and grew into a lifelong passion which he pursues today.

Young Hasenohrl’s father died when he was 6 years old. With his mother working to support the family, Pavel would prepare simple meals for the family after his day at school. He started with simple recipes such as soup and bread and built a solid foundation of ever increasing culinary skills and as a result more sophisticated food preparations.

Even though Pavel’s interests and desires put him on the path to culinary school, a promise made to his mother to finish
University was kept; yet during this time Pavel continued to learn new culinary techniques and improve his existing skills.
With an ever increasing culinary skill set, Pavel set out to obtain his culinary certification. This desire to obtain a culinary certificate created a conundrum. The cost of culinary school was high; yet Pavel had mastered most, if not all, the techniques which were to be taught. What to do? Being the persistent individual, Pavel was able to convince the administration to allow
him to take the culinary exam for certification without the requisite instruction. He passed the exam and earned his culinary certificate with ease.

Even though Pavel obtained his culinary certification, his constant desire to learn more and improve his own techniques
continued. He traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France often staying in one location for 4-6 months at a time. He would work with some of the top chefs in the area building upon his culinary skills, honing his techniques and expanding his repertoire of recipes. Self-taught, continentally trained and experienced, Pavel’s ultimate desire was to open a restaurant in the United States.

In 2000 Pavel took the big step and moved to Florida to begin his dream of opening his own restaurant. He worked for a number of years cooking and baking all the while gaining an understanding of the Florida restaurant business. His break came 2 years ago when restaurant space on Desoto Road became available. Seeing the opportunity, Pavel jumped in with the perfect combination of enthusiasm, experience, and energy. Two Chef’s Casual Dining was born!

As one would expect, the restaurant and the dining experience are a blend of European and American experiences. Offering a stylish, contemporary, and colorful décor, Two Chef’s serves classic European cuisine with American styled casual dining and reasonable prices. With a focus on quality, all of the food is made from scratch utilizing fresh, high quality,ingredients. It is no surprise, today’s dining expectations, high quality food at affordable prices, perfectly matches Two Chef’s mission.

A persistent, quiet leader, Pavel continues to innovate and improvise as his culinary career unfolds. Realizing the potential
synergy between a wholesale baking company and his restaurant, Pavel launched the Two Chef’s Strudel Production Company which provides high quality wholesale baked goods to Tampa Bay businesses. If initial orders are an indication of success, the Strudel Production Company is off to a great start.

Four Steps to making an awesome apple strudel:

Start with home-made dough, cinnamon, and raisins

Add plenty of fresh apples

Cut the dough on an angle

Fold the dough and get ready to bake!

It has often been said “people do best that which they love.” Pavel’s love and passion is food. It started at the age of 6 and continues today. Not only does he love to cook and share his creations with friends and family, he is really good at doing so!

SRQ Reviews, the restaurant guide you need to find the best dining in Sarasota, Florida.

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Perhaps one of the more unique dining experiences in Sarasota is dinner at Ray’s at the Serving Spoon.

A Cordon Bleu trained and multi-venue restaurateur, Chef Ray Schilcher specializes in coastal cuisine. Hailing from Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts, Ray has developed and perfected his craft over many years in a variety of gourmet venues. For some additional background on Chef Ray Schilcher, you can see our prior post entitled “Sarasota’s Best Kept Gourmet Dining Secret.”

Martha's Vineyard stuffed shrimp

On Friday, April 30, 2010, Ray’s @ The Serving Spoon will host a Martha’s Vineyard Night to celebrate the years Ray lived and cooked on “The Vineyard. The menu for that weekend will include many of his customer’s favorite dishes from all FIVE or his restaurants.  The menu will be the same for both Friday & Saturday night, but on FRIDAY the restaurant will be filled with present and former residents of this incredible little island measuring 87.48 square miles, located off the South of Cape Cod Massachusetts, the largest TRUE island off the East Coast of the United States.  The restaurant is filling up fast for this special occasion, so if you would like to be part of this event, call Melanie for reservations at 941-377-2486!

Ray’s at the Serving Spoon, a “Must try Mondays” selection.

SRQ Reviews, the restaurant guide you need to find the best dining in Sarasota, Florida.