Who is Chef Amadeus? Ask the 49-year-old chef and philanthropist and he will tell you, “I’m just a little fella who loves to cook, that’s it.”
At an early age, Amadeus learned to cook to avoid being bullied. “When I was a kid I got picked on a lot because I was the runt in the neighborhood,” he remembers. “My mom and grandmother would always say, ‘We can’t do nothing about that, but come in the house and we’ll teach you to do something that one day everyone will want you to be a part of.’” Time and dedication would prove them right and what Amadeus lacks in stature he makes up in passion and personality. “People say I have this big aura when I come in the kitchen. You could be six-six and I’m not afraid of you because I’m five-foot-one. Let’s put it on the plate!”
Amadeus knows a thing or two about putting it all on the plate. In 2011, he was invited to participate in an episode of Food Network’s Extreme Chef where he was pitted against a CIA-trained chef with no less than five restaurants. The competition involved creating dishes using bizarre ingredients like meal worms, crickets and scorpions. Despite never having graduated culinary school or owning a restaurant of his own, Amadeus went on to defeat his opponent. “My passion overrode his ego,” he explains, a fault he finds in too many chefs these days who only seem to enter the industry to reach celebrity status.
Soon after the show, Amadeus made the decision to return home to Jacksonville after a decade cooking and working in Seattle. Looking to get involved, Amadeus took inventory of what was happening in the food scene and set out to create something unique. “Chefs were saying, ‘I’d love to get my hands on local products,’ and the farmers were saying, ‘I’d love to get my products in the hands of local chefs,’” Amadeus explains of the impetus for what would become Extreme Food Fights. Drawing from his experience on Extreme Chef, Amadeus designed a competition for local chefs using mystery ingredients sourced from local farms and suppliers.
As Chef Amadeus puts it, cooking is a “great equalizer” in that passion trumps privilege and anyone, regardless of means, can make a career for themselves. As such, much of his energy these days is directed towards coaching high school culinary teams and mentoring students pursuing a career in food service. “Food can take you any and everywhere,” Amadeus tells of his own journey. “If you come from the Northside of Jacksonville like I did and have been where I’ve been all because of food, why not come back and help others find that passion?”
Amadeus would like to see chefs take a more active role in recruiting young cooks by attending high school competitions and observing them the way a college football coach might scout players. He envisions them taking these young, eager students under their wings as apprentices and providing them with the opportunity to grow and thrive within the industry that has given him so much over the years.
Chef Amadeus may be a “little fella” in terms of size but his passion for cooking and helping young people make him a giant we can all look up to.
To learn more about Extreme Food Fights, go to facebook.com/extremefoodfights