I felt so fortunate to be invited to Chef Asif’s “reveal” party with 100 of his close friends, held at 10 PM at his East Naples restaurant, 21 Spices. I asked him to write a few words that I could use in writing about his restaurant and about him personally, other than what I observed myself. The highly energetic and constantly smiling chef and family man, was all smiles as he welcomed his invited guests to join him in watching the TV program in which Chef Asif and Chef Bobby Flay were competing against one another to win the “Beat Bobby Flay” contest. Chef’s beautiful wife Semeena was at his side greeting people and keeping a watchful eye on their young children. I’d like to interject that those children were so well behaved, very proud of their dad, respectful to everyone there, and an example of what the family expects of their children. Chef is also proud of his East Naples restaurant, 21 Spices, and that he also lives in East Naples. I don’t believe that Collier residents actually knew we had a nationally recognized chef right here in our midst. We have many great chefs here, but I don’t think any of them have been recognized nationally. For Marco Islanders, they already knew Chef Asif because he was the master chef for 14 years at the Marco Island Hilton Hotel before going off to start his own restaurant, and he left with their blessings and support! That’s how nice a guy he is. The awards this East Naples chef has earned include appearing three times on a national TV cooking show, including Guys’ Grocery Games, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Beat Bobby Flay. He is the only chef in Southwest Florida to achieve this distinction. And now we just saw him beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay at his own cooking game, and comfortably. He was also chosen as “brand ambassador” for Naples Tourism by the tourism industry. He will be going to New York City for the Tourism Expo soon. He has also been chosen for the New York Food and Wine Festival in Manhattan next month – October 13th – where he will showcase his talent again. He’s been here in Collier County for a long time, but now we KNOW he’s here! We are all so proud of you, Chef Asif!
◼ Last week you might have seen the picture of the first swim meet between Lely High School and Gulf Coast High School held at the Eagle Lakes Aquatic Center at Eagle Lakes Community Park. The teams looked great and ready to go! Both teams were very excited about the lap pool. Up until now the Lely High School swim team was very small because there was no pool to practice in, and to get to a “meet” they had to be transported, or to practice they had to find transportation to the Golden Gate pool. Because of these deterrents, it was difficult to get swimmers to participate, but now they have quite a few swimmers signed up, and they have a pool to practice and swim in. One participant had never even learned how to swim before, and now she is rising to the top of the chart in her learning capabilities. She practices every day! Now these young people can easily get to the pool after school and practice, even if they don’t have a car. I talked with one mom, Nancy Nash, as she talked about her daughter Elizabeth and how excited she has been since the pool has opened, and how nervous she gets before a meet. What a nice family they have. This pool is probably the best thing that has ever happened for the kids in our parks in this section of town. And oh by the way, the adults are just as active as the kids, with water aerobics taking place while the kids are in school. Let me surprise you and tell you the numbers for June, the month it opened with no admission fee and without much fanfare: for adults/seniors was 1,927 and for youth was 2,281! For free-admission- July the adults/seniors went to 6,917 and for youth it was 7,902! For August, when fees were collected, the adult/seniors dropped to 1,477 and the youth count was 1,737! I’m sure those figures kept the lifeguards busy! I think the parks people are very surprised to see the park being used so heavily. I am hoping we can find a benefactor or group of benefactors to buy a scoreboard for these meets so spectators can see the scores and the participants’ names. Before the pool, there were only soccer fields, which were closed in the summer to allow the fields to “rest.” Now, when it isn’t raining or lightning, the kids can swim! There is a great Mexi Soccer team that plays in the evening, where families come together to encourage their youth to win, but during the rainy season they can’t play anyway, even if it didn’t rain, because the fields are closed to players, and this park, up until the pool, had nothing else for the kids to do if there was no soccer or baseball games going on, and there were was very little to do inside the community center. (Shortly the county will be installing artificial turf on one of the soccer fields so that soccer can be played in the summer as well.) No matter what game: soccer or baseball, we needed other things to keep these kids off the streets and into a healthy, wholesome environment where there are games or classes and more. We hope to fix that next. If you sometimes wonder what you can do to help the kids in this area, you can purchase swim tickets for them to use at the pool. Some families, who have more than one child, cannot afford to send three kids to the pool at $1.50 each time per child. I’m sure the gift passes would be gratefully received.
I should mention the Swim Coach, Adam Peterson, helped our design team with the pool design to build a pool for swim meets, for youth, for diving, for senior exercise classes, and much more. That team met regularly working together to create the best pool this area has ever seen. Beside Coach Peterson, we have a volunteer parent, Curt, who helps Adam with these young people whenever he is needed. Both work together like hand-in-glove.
◼ Just a side note: I know the shops in shopping centers complain about the trees in the parking lot and want them removed and replanted with palms, but have you ever noticed that those shade trees are the first places cars head to park, especially in this wicked heat and sun. We go to those shopping centers because we already know the stores we want are there. Do we really need to take down all those shade trees and replace them with palm trees that provide little or no shade whatsoever? If they continue getting rid of shade trees, someone needs to invent a car-umbrella, where you can push a button before getting out of the car, and an umbrella would come out of the top to protect the car from all the heat and the paint job from the sun.
◼ Fuel prices are really a little crazy, aren’t they? I always watch the prices. No, I won’t drive five miles to save two cents, but I’ll plan my trip to get wherever, to drive by a lower priced gas station if it is really lower. As a for-instance: on 9/17 at Speedway the price was $2.66, further east it was $2.79 and further south it was $2.89! For 23 cents, I’ll plan to drive by there even if I don’t really need fuel quite yet. Might as well fill up when I have the opportunity. Today the price was $2.53 at Speedway, just a week later! That’s where I go tomorrow!