November 23, 2020
Ed Chiles is a Florida Icon

Photo: Rebecca Stumpf

Ed Chiles: Restaurateur, entrepreneur, son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, Anna Maria; age 65

Ed Chiles is a Florida Icon

Restaurateur, entrepreneur, son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, Anna Maria, age 65

Art Levy | 8/26/2020

Lakeland was the classic small town. It was a great place to grow up. We were back and forth from water skiing in the lakes to swimming in the phosphate pits — riding our bikes everywhere.

Politics is one of the earliest memories I have. At 5, being at the rallies, putting bumper stickers on cars and watching people get up on the back of a flatbed truck and give a speech. And watching dad, a young lawyer, starting his political career.

What keeps me up at night are water-quality issues — red tide, harmful algal blooms. What do we need to do? Well, we need to protect our waters. We need to stop this craziness of allowing people to pollute inland or marine waters because if you pollute inland waters, you’re polluting marine waters.

Growing up, I was gangly, a pleaser. I wanted to be liked. I liked sports but wasn’t great at it. I swam AAU, played football once I got into junior high. Curious. Loved to hunt and fish. Loved to be outdoors. That was time with dad. I remember what I wanted for Christmas every year from the time I was 7 or 8 until I was a teenager was a week in the woods with dad, hunting at our camp in the Green Swamp with my brother. We had great times with dad in the woods.

As I look back, I wish I would have known earlier that food could have been a career because I loved food from an early age. I would have gone to culinary school instead of getting a political science degree, which basically meant I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

We were brought up to really appreciate, to honor, what you hunted. It wasn’t just about killing something. I mean, one time when I was a kid, I shot a mockingbird with a BB gun. My dad came home and he was like, ‘OK, you’re going to clean it and you’re going to eat it.’ I didn’t do that again.

One of the ways we protect our waters is we promote bivalve restoration and seagrass restoration. Clams and oysters don’t pollute. They clean water. Why aren’t we doing more of that? We have 287,000 acres of shellfish-approved waters in the state of Florida — and 1% are leased.

The political discourse today isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s disturbing. I hope things will come back together after this next election, although, no matter what side wins, I worry about what the other side does.

What makes a good turkey hunter? You have to love it because when you think you’re getting good at it, those turkeys will make a fool out of you every time. There’s magic in listening to the woods wake up. When you hunt turkey, you have to get there at dark, and then as the dawn comes, the birds start to chirp and the temperature changes a little bit and everything comes awake and alive and you’re still, anticipating that gobble or that cluck of a hen. You may see a bobcat coming through or hear an owl that’s hooting or see the raccoons that come by and the possum and the deer. It’s that feeling of really being alive and connected. If you don’t like all of that, you’re not going to be a good turkey hunter.

Mom was charming, and mom was great at convening people, and she was super creative. I miss her so much, just to be able to talk things over.

I have two daughters. My oldest, Ashley, was born on my birthday. I was born 5/15/55 and my daughter was born at 5:15 in the morning on 5/15/86. Nancy Reagan would have had a field day charting those stars.

If I could say one thing to the governor of the state of Florida, it’s to certify clams for mitigation credits.

I cook almost every day. I relax by cooking.

Our greatest attribute in Florida is, without question, our environment. We live in paradise, and everybody wants to be here. But that becomes our challenge, too. Post-COVID-19, I think even more people will want to get out of urbanized areas like New York City and Chicago and Detroit and move to Florida.

Dad knew the family at Joe’s Stone Crab a little, so they thought they’d start me out at Joe’s to see how I liked the restaurant business. So, just out of college with a political science degree, I started at the dish machine, which is the biggest dish machine you’ve ever seen — 1,600 dinners a night. I learned so much about culture at Joe’s. I still have the notes that I took back then.

The most important thread in the fabric of a community, a village, a small city, to me is the small-business district. If you don’t have a place to go get a frock or a newspaper or a cup of coffee or a sandwich or a gift and convene with people, then you’re a subdivision.

For two months, if you’re a Florida restaurant that’s worth its salt and you’re not serving sweet corn in May and June, when the Zellwood and Silver Queen are available, you’re missing an opportunity.

It was about the time my dad left the U.S. Senate. I was really upset at the way things were going, how politics had become so money- and lobbyist-driven. I couldn’t shake it. I had a feeling that I was sorry — the kind of sorry that you’re not doing right. I was talking, but I wasn’t willing to stick my head up and get into the fray. So I decided to run for the state Senate. It was a close race. I won in Manatee County but lost it in the southern counties.

John McKay was a guy who worked for my dad, and he was the Republican nominee and I was the Democrat, and McKay won and went on to be president of the Senate. He’s a friend today. It was a freeing experience for me, like I’d been let out of school. I’d been carrying a burden, but I got rid of it — and I haven’t had the temptation to run again.

 

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