Chef Walter Staib is on a mission to demystify the history of some of the most notable cities in the world, with Pensacola filling one of the final spots of the 12th season of the of PBS show A Taste of History featuring three of Pensacola’s best-known chefs.
The 15-Emmy award winning series takes viewers on journeys learning about food around the globe, typically hitting 13 destinations each year, according to Staib. The show balances a mix of domestic and international travel, though travel restrictions from the pandemic provided more opportunity for travel within the U.S. in recent seasons.
Filming kicked off Friday morning in the cook house in the Historic Pensacola Village, with three of Pensacola’s top chefs, Irv Miller, founding chef of Jackson’s Steakhouse, Gus Silivos, executive chef of Agapi Bistro + Garden and Scenic 90 Café and Blake Rushing, executive chef of Union Public House.
The episode was unique in the way it featured three chefs versus the usual one person, and Staib said each chef and dish “exceeded my expectations.”
Each chef was tasked by producers to create a unique dish for the cameras that encapsulated the Pensacola area they have spent decades cooking in. Despite the chilly mid-30s-degree-weather, chefs still were able to prepare their dishes over the wood fire just as it was done years before.
When Visit Pensacola Marketing and Communications Director Nicole Stacey spoke with Staib’s team about the possibility of coming to Pensacola, she knew the opportunity was too good to pass on.
“The thought of showcasing our history and our extremely talented chefs is something we love to highlight,” Stacey said in a statement. “These three chefs have a love and passion for the community, for our city’ s past and are making such a scene for our future.”
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Staib said he was amazed to learn the history within Pensacola and also impressed by the pristine detail in the Historic Pensacola Village with over 450 years of history packed into America’s first multi-year settlement.
“I’m very impressed with the cook house, it has everything you could possibly envision,” Staib said. “The more I looked at (the area) it was a no-brainer. When the show is done, I think it’s going to be absolutely spectacular.”
All three of the local chefs chose to incorporate seafood into their dishes, but infused their own unique cooking styles.
Silivos started off the morning of filming by preparing a red snapper served with Nassau grits and topped with flash-fried collard greens.
He said the snapper has historically always been something that Pensacola has been known for, and something that still fills the Gulf waters in abundance today.
Though the pots and pans he would be using for filming were dated back to the olden days versus the ones he would normally use in the comfort of his own kitchen, Silivos said he always looked forward to cooking over an open flame.
“It’s like going camping,” Silivos teased.
He said the components he chose for the dish, such as the grits and collard greens, are all part of highlighting Pensacola’s history.
“I wanted to highlight food that has historically part of Pensacola,” he said. “Something about that drew people together. That’s what food does, it brings people together.
Miller followed Silivos’ segment with a shrimp, andouille sausage and oyster roast he said was inspired by Pensacola’s Spanish heritage and fresh seafood from the Pensacola Bay.
Miller mentioned how the oysters he used were farmed by Pensacola’s Grayson Bay Oyster Co., making it possible to enjoy local oysters year-round.
Miller’s method was to shuck and roast the oysters in a burlap bag soaked with water from the Pensacola Bay, followed by cooking them as they had been on the beach centuries before.
He described the image he had in his mind when creating the recipe of how people used to go to the bay, fill a pail up with oysters and then build a fire to roast their fresh catch.
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Miller and Staib worked together as they chopped up the andouille sausage to place the fire, with Staib occasionally stealing a piece or two to snack on.
Rushing wrapped up the day of cooking with a classic seafood paella, which encapsulated the Spanish roots of the paella dish, while he felt the addition of seafood made it more uniquely “Pensacola.” He said the dish is similar in nature to a jambalaya, due to the way that all the flavors are mixed together.
His dish would be composed of Florida-native sunchoke vegetables, Cedar Key clams and Royal Red Shrimp.
Not only was Rushing looking forward to making the dish over the wood fire, but also to be cooking alongside Miller and Silivos, who he has known since he was a child.
The opportunity to be featured on the show shows how much Pensacola’s culinary scene has developed over the years, and how much is in store for the future.
“I’m just happy Pensacola has grown up so much. It’s grown so much from when I was in high school, to when I was in college, to when I came back. It’s just exponential how much Pensacola is growing and how awesome it’s getting,” Rushing said.
Producer for A Taste of History Phil Gajari said the show will likely air in late-summer of 2022, depending on the local PBS station, but anticipates it will be ready by the first or second week of July.
Stacey said she looks forward to the episode not only showcasing the food scene in Pensacola, but the vibrant culture as well.
“We’re looking forward to this segment airing and showing off that Pensacola is the way to beach, in more ways than one,” Stacey said.