This article is sponsored by Nestle

Chef Greg Baker is the chef and co-owner of The Refinery, an upscale casual restaurant focused on serving fine food to everyday folks. Baker and his staff work closely with local farmers, artisans and suppliers to prepare the unique dishes that grace The Refinery’s ever-changing menu. His eclectic background of French, Italian and Southern cuisine has helped him become a James Beard nominated chef. Vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free diners as well as omnivores will find something to their liking at The Refinery. South Floridians will also be happy to learn that Baker also recently opened Fodder & Shine, a restaurant that showcases Florida’s southern roots. 

READ MORE: Local Puppies Making Their Debut At The Puppy Bowl XVIII

How did you get started as a chef?

I accidentally started cooking when I was still in high school in Clearwater. I was a dishwasher who was promoted to a cook when the entire cook staff walked out one night. After dropping out of college a few times, I came to the realization that I’d been cooking during the entire time that I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. Maybe there was an idea there. I decided that culinary school may be a good idea for me, as I was a good cook in that I could make whatever was on the menu at the places that I worked with great ease, but I didn’t really know how to cook. I spent eight years after culinary school working under various talented and untalented chefs, rising quickly through the ranks each time. In 1996, I took my first job with the title of Chef in an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon.

Where did you go to culinary school?

I attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon in 1987. Largely, Portland was as far from Florida as I could get, which appealed to the ennui of a 20-year-old misfit. I fell in love with the city and area and ultimately spent almost nine years there.

What makes Tampa special to you?

READ MORE: Mulberry Man Fatally Shot On Sunday Evening

I’ve left here several times, seeking history, culture, and greener grass that I couldn’t find here. Eventually, I would move back each time. At the time, I was too blind to see the rich history and culture of the area; from conquistadors to the Seminole wars to Cracker cowboys to being a launching spot for troops in the Spanish-American War to the once thriving cigar industry, to mafia wars – Tampa has seen a lot.  Add to that the natural beauty of the surrounding area – beaches, crystal clear first magnitude springs, swamps, the Everglades, it really is paradise for a good part of the year.

What are you doing to give back to the community?

I’ve worked with the local school system in providing internship positions for high school students, participated in benefits for Feeding America, but on a daily basis? I work with local farmers as much as I possibly can. That keeps money in the local economy, the money going directly to the people who grow our food and not a multi-national conglomerate, which in turn is spent locally. I feel that that bears the biggest impact on the local economy and community.

Where do you see the food scene in Tampa going?

This is the most exciting time for food that I’ve ever seen in Tampa. Small, chef-driven restaurants are no longer an anomaly, but are becoming the norm. I see so much room for that trend to continue as the customer base continues to grow. Our coffee scene is growing, local distilleries are popping up, and our beer scene is incredible. These are all factors that add up to the emergence of an exciting culinary scene, as I’ve witnessed while living in cities like Austin and Portland. We are so on our way.

MORE NEWS: Over $23,000 Raised From Betty White Challenge At Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Robin D. Everson is a native Chicagoan who resides in Dallas, Texas. Her appreciation for art, food, wine, people and places has helped her become a well-respected journalist. A life-long lover of education, Robin seeks to learn and enlighten others about culture. You can find her work at Examiner.com