The only thing MasterChef’s Jeff Philbin loves more than food and people is bringing the two together to provide great culinary experiences!
Growing up, Jeff was drawn to cooking by watching Julia Child, Lidia Bastianich, and Jacques Pépin with his mother every Saturday afternoon on PBS. “I didn’t grow up with cable TV, so I had to turn to the classics and a seed was planted.” Those culinary titans and their appreciation for their craft inspired Philbin to pursue a career in the culinary industry. Paying his way through college, he forged a love for guest engagement and interaction; he worked his way up from waiter, to events coordinator, to area sales manager, and then to director of marketing for a local restaurant group. This journey, which spanned nearly 15 years, cemented his love for food.
However, it was his appearances on Season 8 of FOX’s MasterChef that introduced America to Jeff’s snap-back hats and fun shirts, along with his humble, fun-loving, yet fearless personality. Jeff’s MasterChef adventure all started at a family dinner, when his brother-in-law said to him, “Jeff, I signed you up for MasterChef. All you need to do is show up in Orlando. I did all of your paperwork because I believe in you.” At that moment, Jeff’s life changed forever.
“Truthfully, I never watched the show before going onto it. I watched all of three episodes in preparation after the producers said they would fly me to Los Angeles to start production on season 8, but I stopped watching because I did not want to psych myself out. I needed to be ready and alert for any challenge and just work hard and work within my abilities.” After two months of filming and being on every week’s episode but one for the entire season, he learned that the MasterChef insignia is a lot more than just the apron that a contestant wears. “For some, it is a release from their lives to enjoy their day, finding solace in a place of relaxation to be entertained; and to me, it was a vessel for a higher purpose,” said Philbin.
The incredible opportunity of being on the show allowed Jeff to namedrop Tampa more than any other city on the show. He was proud to have represented the city and for his voice to have said, “This is my city on a plate” and for the judges; Gordon Ramsey, Aaron Sanchez, and Christina Tosi, all culinary giants; to applaud that particular dish using mussels and chorizo sausage (Philbin’s signature dish) and enjoy his meal was extremely gratifying. He went on to become a fan favorite with his bold and direct attitude of perseverance and passion always showing, and became one of the most memorable personalities in the show’s nine-season history.
In 2013, Philbin was acknowledged by the Tampa Bay Business Journal as the Top 30 Young Professional under the Age of 30 – Up & Comer. To him, the recognition was “Up & Comer. Not Up & Came.” Up & Comer to Jeff means he is on his way, but believes he has so much more to achieve. He challenges himself every day as a millennial, young professional to always keep moving and inspire others. Philbin says, “Millennials sometimes get a bad rap in that they are very aspirational but never proactive; go do it! Do you want to make the world better? Then go do it! Do you want to affect change? Then go do it!”
Throughout his journey, it was never about self-gain, but how he could be a conduit to communicate to the rest of the world about Tampa’s greatness. To champion its growing foodie scene and, taking the title of unofficial spokesperson, he proudly highlights the incredible chefs and restaurateurs in the community with pride and excitement. All this while blazing his path and making a name for himself with a sense to give back.
During his time on the show, every week, with the team at (the former) Fodder & Shine (now The Refinery), he hosted a MasterChef watch party surprising and supporting a local charity. During that time, nearly two dozen local charities received Philbin’s support and engagement. He went on to say how proud he was to have shared their mission with the public for awareness and financial support, raising thousands of dollars collectively, to make an impact on organizations who really perform miracles for others. Philbin mentions, “To have local businesses come together and be inspired by this action to donate their goods and services for these watch parties showed the goodness in humanity that our community can provide!” Those watch parties were the single greatest highlight of Jeff’s MasterChef journey, bringing people together with the intent of using the platform for good and to truly help others. “My father taught me in life; when you give, you receive,” said Philbin. It sounds like he was just getting started!
From MasterChef to Epic Chef
Philbin is especially humbled and excited to be this current season’s host and emcee for Feeding Tampa Bay’s Epic Chef Showdown.
Epic Chef Showdown pits the area’s top restaurants against each other in a friendly cooking competition over seven weeks, with a live, televised production hosted at the signature theater of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. Epic Chef Showdown is filmed by The Identity Tampa Bay, Jeff Vinik’s (owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning) latest media project. In each round, two competing chefs receive a mystery box of ingredients that are not commonly prepared together and will be challenged to create two dishes that are unique, aesthetically pleasing, and of course delicious, all while under the pressure of the clock. When time is up, the chefs present their prepared dishes to a panel of celebrity judges to be critiqued and scored. At the close of the round, one of the chefs will be eliminated, and the winning chef moves on to the next round in hopes of winning $5,000 and earn the sole title of Epic Chef.
Epic Chef Showdown in its fourth year, and was created to bring the community together to not only enjoy the camaraderie and food from local top restaurants, but to also call attention to something much larger that affects many people every day: hunger. “Hunger is a serious and severe issue in our area; it affects one in seven adults and one in four children. These are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, our family members who need our help… to be a part of something with such prestige and the ability to improve lives one meal at a time, and lending a voice to challenge our community in the fight against hunger, is a huge opportunity to make a difference. Feeding Tampa Bay serves over 45 million meals annually, and the magnitude this effort yields is powerful! It’s a privilege and responsibility to share their mission to create a hunger-free Tampa Bay,” Philbin states.
“This year the stakes have been raised to the roof, with a goal for this series to raise 750,000 meals to help Feeding Tampa Bay best last year’s goal of 300,000. Food insecurity is real in the Tampa Bay area and it takes everyone to help them serve the 10 counties this organization supports.” Philbin goes on to say, “These are real people in our backyard that need help. Real people that have to make tough decisions every day. ‘Do I pay for my child’s medicine or buy food for them?’ ‘Can I stretch this meal out, or can I sacrifice the nutritional integrity to make it seem larger?’ It pulls at your heart knowing how blessed many of us are, and yet there are some juggling to pay their bills and not eating. Now, being a young dad myself, thinking of the dilemma of, ‘Do I eat or do my kids eat?’ It pulls at your heart to do more!”
A new addition to this year’s Epic Chef Showdown has been a text message campaign called #donateyourplate, where people can text ‘PLATE’ to 74121 and, with a minimum donation of $25, be entered into a virtual raffle with a chance to win incredible prizes. These include a gift certificate for a one-night stay at the Epicurean Hotel with a $100 Food & Beverage credit, two tickets to opening night with the Tampa Bay Lightning and a signed jersey, or even a private culinary experience with Chef Jeff going to a winner’s home for a four course dinner for up to six people. Raffle winners will be announced during the live stream by The Identity Tampa Bay at the finale on August 27. “This is truly an awesome opportunity to engage the general public to help support Feeding Tampa Bay. It’s amazing that they are able to turn $1 into 10 meals for those in need- just incredible. This campaign, coupled with an anonymous donor matching dollar for dollar all donations up to $50,000, highlights the need to get involved, but also how vital Feeding Tampa Bay is at being the ultimate driving force behind food relief in Tampa Bay.”
Between appearances and community building, Philbin is a recent graduate of Leadership Tampa Bay, class of 2018, a comprehensive leadership program designed to better prepare a diverse group of community, government, business and nonprofit leaders to work collaboratively in addressing regional issues. The program, designed for C-Level executives provides a unique learning experience for emerging and existing leaders through an intensive nine-month program that trains, empowers, and supports leaders to affect positive community change. “I was humbled to be in the company of such leaders within their respective fields and am excited to contribute to the growth plan of Tampa Bay. I am the current class project chair for a large community project that will leave a lasting impact of which we can all be proud. I eventually want to take a long-term, larger role politically to champion our community for even greater days to come! I am busy but am excited and humbled for what is to come.”
Is more TV to come from Chef Jeff?
“I really enjoyed my time on MasterChef and would love to continue on this journey .” With the team at Farmore Marketing, a Tampa-based full-service marketing agency specializing in video production, Philbin is producing a 10-episode series with his own channel on The Identity Tampa Bay’s platform. “I am excited to see where this goes. We have 10 episodes that cover the gamut: from recipes, to learning about some great people, to local businesses all in the food space; it’s really about highlighting some cool stories that need to be told for foodies. We are in post-production and should begin airing in late summer. I hope that we will get the show in front of a network like Food Network, The Cooking Channel, Vice, or even Netflix. I am having way too much fun with this and don’t want to stop!”
Jeff spends his remaining downtime loving life with his beautiful fiancé́, Beth, who for him “brings out the qualities in a partner that make it feel like it will be alright no matter what. That to be a team, you need to stand together and be supportive of one another; ideologies she embodies to her core.” Their two-year-old son, Holden, made him learn what it means, “to truly love someone right at the moment of first seeing them. I treasure every moment with him and, reflecting on being away and filming for two months, it prepared me to be the best dad I can be for him” and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Ruby!
It sounds like there is no end in sight for this top-tier chef as he strengthens his passion for food and community, and it sounds like he is aspiring for even more!