Friday, January 16, 2004
Local chef vies for state ‘title’
By MELANIE STAWICKIAZAM
NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Floridas official soup could come from the kitchen of a tiny restaurant on Pine Street.
The swamp cabbage with alligator soup made by local chef Victor Detec, owner of Victors Backstreet Cuisine, has been chosen as one of 12 soups to compete Saturday for the title of the states official soup.
“The Great Florida Soup Search” at the Radisson in Cape Canaveral, was organized by Jim Duddy, a food columnist for the Melbourne-based newspaper Florida Today, in association with the Florida Restaurant Association and Florida Today. The soup with the best taste and Florida image or historical connection will be named the official state soup, Duddy said.
“If I won, I think Id get enough satisfaction knowing that New Smyrna Beach will be the birthplace of the state soup and everyone would stop here more because of it,” Detec said. “If I could draw more people to the town, because we did it here, itd be great.”
Competitors were chosen based on general reputation and the opinions of state food critics, he said. The blind-taste contest, held during National Soup Month, will be judged by five people, who were recommended by those in the restaurant industry and state food critics, Duddy said.
“(The prize is) the bragging rights to being the official state soup,” he said.
Detec, 55, already has a wall of awards for his cooking, but he said this one would be something special.
“Two hundred years from now, my great-great-grandchildren – if I win – will know that I made the soup that Florida has,” he said.
Detec actually created his swamp cabbage soup 15 years ago at the suggestion of a friend, he said. Along with lots of fresh vegetables, he uses native ingredients such as swamp cabbage, also known as hearts of palm, chicory and alligator meat.
“Its very healthy,” he said. “Its a real Florida soup.” Wearing a baseball cap, jeans and white T-shirt with a surfing logo, Detec said he was floored when he was told his soup was being considered.
“Because look how small I am,” he said, gesturing to his 28-seat restaurant just off Flagler Avenue. “I started this with $88 10 years ago.”
Detec plans and cooks everything himself – the eaterys only other employees are a waitress and hostess. He has never advertised, yet he said he has customers who are visiting the area make reservations from Europe and out-of-state.
“God gives me a gift to do something right, thats all,” Detec said of his cooking success. “I just do what comes naturally.”
Gilly Aguiar, owner of Gillys Pub 44, said he is a big fan of the soup. He describes it as a bit spicy with a great mix of ingredients.
“Hes just does a great job and its a great soup – and I think hes going to win,” he said.
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Detec moved to New Smyrna Beach with two duffel bags 15 years ago after deciding to become a chef at age 35. A Vietnam veteran and sculpture major at Ohio State University, he never went to school to be a chef and doesnt write his recipes down, but he said he cant remember a time he didnt cook. “Cooking always made me happy,” Detec said. “I love making food for people and I love for them to be in great moods.”
The father of five said hes not nervous about the competition, but would be very pleased if he won.
“Im looking for something that will last,” Detec said. “I want my family to be proud of me.”