Tim Stewart is hoping to avoid a sophomore slump as he serves thousands at this year’s Jazz in the Gardens festival.
Stewart is the owner of CuzN Tim’s Seafood Shack and will have his tent set up to serve shrimp, lobster, and much more to hungry music fans during the two-day festival in Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. It’s his second year at the event and he said he learned that there are two main keys to success.
“Having everything prepared and having it cooked fast enough so you can serve it quick and hot,” Stewart said.
The chef said his focus isn’t on elaborate or ornate presentation but on having food that isn’t cold or greasy and on getting the seasoning just right.
The taste is so important that it’s one of the determining factors for a vendor earning a spot in the festival. Stewart said he had to prove his worth to Vannis Lopez, the festival’s vendor coordinator.
“She happened to come out to one of my events and ordered some food and fell in love with it,” Stewart said. “And the next thing she said was, ‘you’ve been accepted.’ ”
Lopez said it has been her practice to do taste tests of the vendors. She normally goes to their business and makes sure she doesn’t speak, so the owner won’t hear her and recognize her voice.
“I watch how they interact with customers and I get to see the cleanliness of the work environment,” Lopez said.
She said that Stewart’s personality and staff stood out and that the food was “excellent.”
Stewart said he is “honored” to participate in Jazz in the Gardens even though he’s done other big events like the Calle Ocho Festival in Little Havana and the Florida stops of the Vans Warped Tour last year.
“For a two-day period, it is one of the biggest events I have,” Stewart said.
Stewart got his start about three years ago, at the suggestion of his cousin Barry Green. Green invited Stewart to work with him for a week at his seafood food truck in Hartford, Conn., and it was all the convincing he needed.
“He said he couldn’t wait to get back and get started,” Green said.
As far as the menu goes, Stewart said to expect plenty of lobster tails, crab, tilapia, snapper and shrimp along with other items like chicken tenders, conch fritters and scallops.
For the most part, Stewart expects things to go smoothly, but preparing for the festival has given him a few concerns.
At last year’s fest, organizers only allowed to Stewart to have eight servers working with him. His wife, Julia, said the crowds were the biggest surprise when she helped Tim last year.
“When I was serving and I saw the line was way, way out there I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ ” Julia Stewart said.
Her husband said the limited staff made things a bit tougher for his crew.
“You go from about 3 o’clock to 11 o’clock that evening,” Stewart said. “It was pretty tough on my servers, but hopefully this year it should be a little better.”
He hopes to have about 20 people at his tent this year to provide faster service. Lopez said she’ll be providing him with additional passes, but did not specify how many.
A larger group of cooks is what Stewart is accustomed to, as he and his family in Ocala grew up catching and cleaning fish and cooking around backyard fires.
“My grandparents and parents were all fishermen,” Stewart said. “We fish, we clean, and we cook and we’ve been doing that all our lives. And we fish fry into the wee hours of the morning.”
And as the party at Jazz in the Gardens goes long into the night this weekend, CuzN Tim will be doing what he’s always known: cooking seafood and listening to good music.