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.

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 and Wine Festival to participate in one of their Chef "Smackdowns."

Uuhhh, who, me - the TV guy who 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?

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 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, but that's later.

Back to reality of the "News Guy" having to cook for 50 people (insert second wince here). I've cooked for large groups before, so that's not an issue. The guests at the event, 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: "Whatsa matter with you? You're scared? Of what?"

No, not scared. Nervous. This is a big deal. This is the Savannah Food and 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 apparition to me, but it wasn't. In fact, watching my dad cook was like 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 10, 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 - to craft 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 24.

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'd buy your tickets soon. There are only 50 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 for three courses from each of us and a wine pairing. You can't beat that, but you can watch me beat the paisan.

See you on TV,



⢠On a much more serious note, the list of participants for the Savannah Food and Wine Fest 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 at Liberty and Drayton. More on that soon, as well.