Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday November 22nd 2017

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From “Panhandle to Pan” with Chef Irv Miller

By Jennifer Leigh

For three decades, Chef Irv Miller has been making the Florida Panhandle a more delicious place to dine.

You’ve seen him on TV, read his food columns and, of course, enjoyed his dishes at Jackson’s Steakhouse where he is the founding executive chef.  You also voted for him multiple times, including this year, in Best of the Coast. Miller just won one of this year’s top honors—Best Chef.

With his new cookbook, “Panhandle to Pan: Recipes and Stories of Florida’s New Redneck Riviera,” you can take a culinary tour of the region guided by Miller with personalized notes, stories and a timeline about the development of the cuisine in the area.

As with all cookbooks, there are recipes. “Panhandle to Pan” has around 150 for every occasion, including Miller’s Coastal Crab Cakes.

“They run the gamut from appetizers, salads, soups, steaks, wild game, fish…the whole board,” he said. “I don’t really think of (the recipes) as my secrets. It’s a pleasure to pass them on.”

Although Miller has contributed to several cookbooks, “Panhandle to Pan” is his first culinary tome, but he shares the glory with the regional farmers and artisans who make a living producing fine quality food.

“It’s not just a cookbook,” he said. “It localizes the culture and captures the folks that are a part of it. It truly is a remarkable history.”

While Miller pokes fun at the region’s infamous nickname in his book, he says trends like the farm-to-table movement aren’t new in the area.

“It’s been going on for decades,” he said. “Now that term is more-or-less abused. To walk the walk is difficult. I personally do what I can…but that’s part of the beauty; it’s changing. It’s been changing.”

Places like Flora Bama Farms and Palafox Market have helped change the culture for the masses, as well as providing easy access to fresh food.

“Before (Palafox Market) in the early 2000s, I used to meet the farmers under the I-10 bridge,” Miller said.

When Miller first moved to the area in the 1980s, he said his goal was to get the word out about the area’s “culinary renaissance.” This book is an attempt to celebrate that.

From his earlier days at Destin’s first out-of-the-ordinary restaurant, Les Saison’s, and Bud & Alley’s in Seaside, to Pensacola, Miller is well-versed in Gulf Coast agriculture, highlighting local commodities such as Apalachicola oysters, Alligator Point wild-harvested clams, red snapper from Pensacola and Destin and North Florida shrimp. His knowledge extends from land to sea with his repertoire of steaks at Jackson’s.

As a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, it’s no surprise that “Panhandle to Pan,” features dishes that appeal to an adult palette, but could certainly be shared with families. In fact, Miller said he produced the book to leave a legacy, of sorts, for his daughter.

“I wanted to let her know why I work so hard,” he said with a laugh.

Miller admits it’s a challenge to engage children and compete with technology, but it’s worthwhile to invite kids into the kitchen.

While Miller is a chef with a list of accolades, including a six-time performing chef for the James Beard Foundation, the founding member of Pensacola Celebrity Chefs, and decades of experience and expertise, Miller said his book and recipes are very “user-friendly.”

“I designed it that way,” he said. “Cooking is a very natural thing. The entire book is a joie de vivre — crack open the book, support local farmers, stroll through the local markets and celebrate the food.”

PANHANDLE TO PAN BOOK SIGNING
WHEN: 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8
WHERE: Jackson’s Steakhouse, 400 S. Palafox
DETAILS: jacksonsrestaurant.com