Meet 8 Local Rising Chefs Cooking Up A Storm On The Treasure Coast

by Editorial Staff Feb 2017 Also on Digital Edition

From a catering queen to an internationally inspired cook, these are the rising chefs in our community you ought to know about.

Mark Anthony Zollo

Chef / Owner at The Cornerstone Bistro 2

As a young boy, Mark Anthony Zollo remembers standing on a chair in the kitchen so he could observe his grandfather while he crafted meals from scratch. Zollo, now 53, also admired his father, a cook in the army who later worked as a part-time butcher while attending classes at Syracuse University. Both men influenced Zollo’s career path, leading the Port St. Lucie resident to open three restaurant concepts on the Treasure Coast, including The Cornerstone Bistro 2. While the restaurant is notable for its American surf and turf, perhaps what’s most impressive is the wine selection. Just this year, the Cornerstone added 25 new wines from California to France. “No one has a wine list as intensive as ours,” Zollo says. 

What’s the wildest dish that’s ever left (or had to stay in) your kitchen? One of the craziest items ever to come out of my kitchen was an Everglades Pâté—with gator, wild boar, frog and rattlesnake—with a black currant coulis and Champagne grapes.

What cooking device or utensil can you not live without? My French-made mandolin and my mini melon baller and waffle cutter.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? Martin and St. Lucie county for me was a blank canvas. There really was not an upscale restaurant where you could go for a
special occasion. 

What’s your favorite restaurant—not including your own? My favorite restaurant is in South Beach, Miami, on Washington Street called Barton G. The food is creative, the presentation is unbelievable and the guest sitting next to you may be a supermodel, or an A-list actor, or your favorite sports star, or maybe just an ordinary passionate, hardworking American like me.

The Cornerstone Bistro 2, 848 SE Becker Road, Port St. Lucie / 772.785.5220 /cornerstonebistro2.com


Eric Grutka

Chef/Owner at Ian’s Tropical Grill

Eric Grutka entered the restaurant industry at age 15. Four years later, the restaurant where Grutka was waiting tables was short a person in the kitchen. So, the Jensen Beach resident offered to fill in. The 45-year-old chef and owner of Ian’s Tropical Grill never returned to the front of the house. 

From where do you draw most of your inspiration when creating dishes? France/Japan/United States.

What is the biggest challenge that restaurants and chefs face today? Balancing the rising cost of food and labor with creating an affordable menu.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? The fact that I have lived here 34 years! I have talked about moving, but I don’t know if I could.

Next time we visit your restaurant, what should we order? Everyone seems to order our scallops, but our octopus appetizer has been really well received.

Ian’s Tropical Grill, 2875 SE Ocean Blvd., Stuart / 772.334.4563 / ianstropicalgrill.com


Jason Stocks

Chef/Owner at District Table & Bar

Jason Stocks, 36, was attending business school when he got a job at a restaurant. Working in the kitchen reminded Stocks of the times he spent helping his grandmother cook; and eventually, it was she who convinced the Palm City resident to attend culinary school. “It proved to be my calling,” says the four-year owner and chef at District Table & Bar. 

What’s the wildest dish that’s ever left (or had to stay in) your kitchen? [That] depends on who you are asking what is wild, I guess. I like to use every part of the animal—mostly because they are so tasty—but it also shows respect to the animals we consume. We have served beef hearts, smoked sweetbreads, and [we] run bone marrow quite often; and some people might consider those ‘wild.’

What cooking device or utensil can you not live without? Plating spoons—I cannot live with out good spoons.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? This area is full of affluent people, but [it] is still a small town. I know most everyone, and they now me. 

What’s your favorite restaurant—not including your own? I don’t get out for dinner much, but we do eat out [for] lunch quite a bit. The Classic Jamaican Jerk Shop on Indian Street in Stuart—killer jerk chicken and healthier than most options. 

District Table & Bar, 900 SE Indian St., Stuart / 772.324.8357 / districttableandbar.com


Taylor Wilson

Executive Chef at The Gafford

Taylor Wilson follows a lineage of great cooks: from his great grandfather to grandmother to father, and now on to him. The 28-year-old executive chef at The Gafford and Stuart resident says it was his dad who had the most influence on his career path. “I watched him every day growing up as a chef, general manager and area director. He is a very talented man in the culinary and business world, and what son doesn’t want to be like [his] dad?” he asks. 

What cooking device or utensil can you not live without? When opening the restaurant four years ago, there were all of these utensils and equipment I wanted because of my previous history with them. We got most of them upon opening, but there was one I craved. Two years in, my dad walked up to the kitchen and said he had a surprise for me—my favorite tool in the kitchen: the robot coupe MP600 Turbo immersion blender. It is definitely the one tool I could not live without.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? I truly believe that here in Stuart we live in paradise. I often say that it feels like every day is [a] vacation because of our location. Working long hours, day after day, is tough, but as soon as you walk outside that stress of the kitchen is relieved by our location.

Next time we visit your restaurant, what should we order? Mabel’s Fried Chicken. My 93-year-old grandmother passed down this recipe to my mother and then to me. It’s my absolute favorite and takes me home every time I have it. 

What’s your favorite restaurant—not including your own? Smoke [in] Dallas, Texas

The Gafford, 47 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart / 772.221.9517 / thegafford.com


Lorna Neadow Day

Owner of Ooo La La Catering

When Lorna Neadow Day opened Stuart’s The Metro Blues Café in 1997, the plan was to drink martinis and sing with the band. But somehow, she ended up in the kitchen—and never left. After seven years at what locals came to know as Metro Grille, the restaurant closed and Day, now 48, decided to create her next venture—Ooo La La Catering, which is on to its 16th year of operation.

What cooking device or utensil can you not live without? My coffee pot—nothing would happen if it did not exist. And a good French knife [is a] close second. 

What is the biggest challenge that restaurants and chefs face today? Cost of goods. Food costs are rising and the challenge is in purchasing so that you achieve the highest yields and the lowest waste ratios.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? This is my home. I had Metro for seven years and now Ooo La La for 16 years. We are woven into this community. I love the philanthropy, the people, the waterways, and there is a definite energy to the Treasure Coast—one that I am drawn to.

What’s your favorite restaurant—not including your own? Buccan on Palm Beach Island. I have never been disappointed. The Short Rib Empanada and their Sweet Corn Agnolotti, mmm. Is anyone willing to go tonight?   

Ooo La La Catering, 2413 SE Dixie Highway, Stuart / 772.419.2099 / ooolalacaters.com


Julie LaFrance-Lentine

Owner/Proprietor at Taco Shack

A Florida native, Julie LaFrance-Lentine’s restaurant career began at a young age in Miami when she worked for her father as hostess. While her love for food developed, LaFrance-Lentine worked for Pillsbury Company and Roma Corporation to The Mayfair House Hotel in Miami and then the Grand Bay Hotel in Coconut Grove. “I knew after five years in food and beverage and catering and sales that I would forever be happily married to the love and passion of creating and serving  fabulous meals...” says the 52-year-old Stuart resident. “We all know food is the language of love.”

From where do you draw most of your inspiration when creating dishes? I draw a lot of my inspiration and flavors from traveling around the world but mostly Latin and Mexican influence[s]. As growing up in Miami, these staples were a part of everyday life.

What’s the wildest dish that’s ever left (or had to stay in) your kitchen? I’ve created some crazy dishes in my lifetime, but most recently one of the craziest and ever popular is my Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bean Taco. It’s out of this world. I figured people are going to either love it or hate it, and it’s [an] instant hit ever since I married all those ingredients into one sweet little package.

What cooking device or utensil can you not live without? The one utensil I could never live without in my kitchen is my hands. I love the feel of food!

What is the biggest challenge that restaurants and chefs face today? One of the biggest challenges that chefs face today is cooking for everyone’s special dietary needs. People young and old  have become more food savvy and health conscious, so they are constantly striving for healthy and fresh alternatives.

Taco Shack, 555 S. Colorado Ave., Stuart / 772.288.9696 


Steven Feder

Chef/Owner at Riverwalk Cafe and Oyster Bar

Steven Feder became a chef out of necessity. “Nobody in my family could make anything remotely edible, therefore it was an act of self-preservation,” he says. The Stuart resident could thank his relatives for their lack of craftsmanship in the kitchen, as it led the 48-year-old to his position as owner and chef at Riverwalk Cafe and Oyster Bar, where he’s been for 15 years. 

From where do you draw most of your inspiration when creating dishes? The deep blue sea.

What’s the wildest dish that’s ever left (or had to stay in) your kitchen? Too many to name—90 percent never saw the outside of the kitchen.

What is the biggest challenge that restaurants and chefs face today? Always trying to find the top-quality products and avoiding the ones that are pumped full of chemicals, preservatives and who knows what else. It’s scary how much of that is out there.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? We are still a relatively small city with a great hometown feel. There is a great sense of community.

Riverwalk Cafe and Oyster Bar, 201 SW St. Lucie Ave., Stuart / 772.221.1511 / riverwalkoysterbar.com


Robert W. King

Executive Chef at Pietro’s on the River

Robert King’s mom owned a catering business, and the whole family was involved. “I just set tables, and in my teens they let me play with food,” says the 63-year-old Port St. Lucie resident. After a few gigs with a famous hot dog stand and a new pizza chain in Buffalo, New York, King got his first job as a chef at 21 years old. “I have always felt that I work for the best place in town and take pride in what me and my staff and all other employees provide for the customers,” he says. “I try to teach and learn something every day, and it’s not always perfect, but we’ll try again and try to have fun with food. Nothing is in concrete in cooking. Anything goes.”

From what country do you draw most of your inspiration when creating dishes? I was lucky to work with chefs from all over...Europe, England, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark. I personally like the tastes of the Mediterranean and all the cultures that surround it.

What is the biggest challenge that restaurants and chefs face today? The biggest challenge today is to find and keep good quality employees who enjoy what they do and understand that you are not going to all get rich and famous. It is a high-pressure job, and there are always time limits. You have many people coming out of school that expect to be the chef but can’t perform under daily pressures.

What’s the wildest dish that’s ever left (or had to stay in) your kitchen? The wildest [thing] that I’ve had come up [was] roasting a whole steer in a field for an advertising agency and clients—about 1,000, and [we] provided catering for all.

What makes the Treasure Coast the ideal place to work in the restaurant industry? I moved to St. Lucie to get a more casual lifestyle and get away from restaurants. I love it here, but it is not the culinary capital of Florida. ... We have great local restaurants and many talented people here, but it doesn’t have the local neighborhood cultures that others have. The chains are more in, and we all have to compete with prices and national trends when we want to cook to please.

Pietro’s On the River, 8735 S. Ocean Drive, Jensen Beach / 772.229.7575 / pietrosontheriver.com


Related articles: 

District Table & Bar’s Chef Explains What Eating Local Means To Him

Italian Restaurateur Pietro Valentini Discovered His Love Of Food While Scooping Ice Cream As A Teenager In Germany

How Julie LaFrance-Lentine Made The Taco Shack A Must-Try Stuart Restaurant