Meet Jada Vidal, Tampa’s Newest Popup Chef

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TAMPA — Jada Vidal grew up watching celebrity chefs go head-to-head in competition-style cooking shows. She never imagined that she would one day have the chance to watch herself compete.

In the spring of 2021, the 19-year-old Tampa native took on three other competitors on Guy’s Grocery Games – and won.

“It’s a really weird feeling when you watch the show for so long and then see yourself in it,” she said.

Vidal, now 20, said winning the top prize on Guy Fieri’s hit Food Network show – which brought her $20,000 – helped boost her confidence and launch her career.

Since the fall, Vidal has been hosting pop-up dinner parties around Tampa showcasing his signature style of elevated South American cuisine.

She held her first event at the Show + Tell cooking demo space at Tampa’s Armature Works in September, and since then she’s held several other sold-out popups around town, including most recently a themed dinner party. vacation at Willa’s restaurant in North Hyde Park.

Chef Jada Vidal, 20, started cooking when she was 12. A graduate of Riverview High School, she started working at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa as a line cook when she was 17 years old. [ Courtesy of Bri Watkins ]

A graduate of Riverview High School, Vidal said she fell in love with the culinary arts while still in elementary school. She started cooking at the age of 12, selling French pastries in her middle school before switching gears and moving into cooking.

“I realized that I didn’t have the patience for certain things,” she said of baking.

Vidal said she started watching a lot of cooking shows and was inspired by some of the biggest names in the genre – bad boy storytellers like Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Anthony Bourdain. She came to idolize these leaders, but found it difficult to relate to their image.

“I realized that none of them looked realistically like me,” she said. “There was no one who embodied, at least physically, who I am.”

Throughout high school, Vidal performed at catering gigs and private home events before eventually landing a job as a line cook at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. At the time, she was 17 and the youngest cook in the kitchen. A year later, she moved to nearby restaurant Haven, where she was working when she received a call from a casting director to Guy’s Grocery Games, asking her if she would be interested in participating in the show.

It was Vidal’s first time traveling alone across the country to California, where the show is filmed. Her victory on the show came across to viewers as effortless, and the judges were wowed by her two dishes: a dinner of Korean fried chicken wings with pickled cucumber salad and a filet mignon with polenta and morels.

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Although Vidal said winning the $20,000 was “incredible”, she said the real prize was stepping out of her comfort zone and proving to herself that she could branch out and explore her talents closer to home. .

“Being on the show just gave me the confidence to do it myself,” she said.

After the show aired in September, Vidal quit his daily restaurant gig and launched his popup series. She knows the occasional popup isn’t the end of the game. But she sees the events as a way to make a name for herself while she thinks about what to do next.

“It came with just the desire to cook my own food and do something on my own,” she said. “I know this won’t last forever – I’m still figuring it out.”

So far, the popups, which feature multi-course tasting menus and wine pairings, have been a hit and are selling out fast. Vidal limits events to around 40 people, which helps him manage the scale.

Vidal keeps dinner parties small and intimate.  Her menus reflect her evolving culinary style, which she describes as an elevated Southern style with Cuban influences.
Vidal keeps dinner parties small and intimate. Her menus reflect her evolving culinary style, which she describes as an elevated Southern style with Cuban influences. [ Courtesy of Sarah Maingot ]

Although Vidal’s cooking draws from a wide selection of cuisines, she said she is happiest cooking food that represents her upbringing and culture.

Her menus draw heavily on South American and African American culinary traditions, which she says come from her mother’s side of the family, many of whom hail from Florida and South Carolina. Her father’s family is Cuban and her grandmother’s traditional Cuban cuisine inspires the other half of her cooking. Vidal said she enjoys merging these cuisines, while spicing up the dishes with the culinary skills and techniques she has learned along the way.

Vidal’s next pop-up, at Sprigs Studio in Ybor City on January 22, features a menu emblematic of his current style. There’s Jimmy Red Cornbread, served with Hudson Valley foie gras butter and Maldon salt; charred greens in a ham hock dashi with cracklins and lemon zest; and confit chicken served with caramelized celeriac balls. For dessert, there’s a gooey parsnip butter cake, served with roasted strawberries and a parsnip mousse.

“It’s fun to do different cuisines,” Vidal said. “But I find the food that gives me the most comfort is the food I grew up on.”

Vidal’s next popup will take place on January 22 at Sprigs Studio in Tampa. More information about tickets and upcoming events can be found on her Instagram page: @thejadavidal.



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