Chefs go toe-to-toe in BBQ Battle, WWII event tasters come out on top


Chefs from senior communities across Brevard racked up fan raves in the Battle for Best Barbecue at an Aug. 14 event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. 

Senior Life was the Space Coast host of “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive,” a national campaign that inspired many different kinds of events across the nation. The local event at Space Coast Convention Center in Cocoa drew more than 600 attendees that included WWII veterans, women and children who remember the day first-hand and veterans and members of the community of all ages.

Grand Villa’s chefs Jim Missale and Larry Abell took first-place Judge’s Choice and second-place People’s Choice.Grand Villa Senior Living Community’s chef Jim Missale took first-place Judge’s Choice and second-place People’s Choice for his fall-off-the-bone tender ribs.

“What a great event. Everyone was so happy,” Missale said. “Everyone just kept saying such nice things about our dish, so appreciative. That’s what you hope for as a chef — to please — and it feels really good.”

Brookdale’s team Jon Knestrick, Chef Al DeLeo, Pamela Pistor and Gwen Shick won the first-place People’s Choice award.Brookdale Senior Living took first-place People’s Choice for its pulled-pork slider.

“People said they really liked that you had the flavor of the barbecue that at the same time allowed the flavor of the pork to come through,” Brookdale chef Al DeLeo said.

Palm Cottages in Rockledge duo Thomas Gurley and Monica Lucier Thomas Gurley and Monica Lucier from Palm Cottages. took a third-place People’s Choice award and drew raves from fans for presentation. Gurley’s artistic German culinary background and Lucier’s love for variety and flair helped win the award, the pair agreed.

“Great tasting food is important, and we loved all the fantastic comments from attendees, but it’s also an important part of the dining experience to please the eye, which provides a good ambiance,” Gurley said. “The saying goes, ‘We eat with our eyes, first.’ ”

Buena Vida Estates won second-place Judges’ Choice and third-place People’s Choice.John Delaney, chef from Buena Vida Estates.

“It made me feel so good to be so well received. We had a lot of fun,” Buena Vida chef John Delaney  said. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Viera Manor chefs Don Saltsman, left, and Brandy Nahass.​Viera Manor veterans retirement community in Viera generated comments from attendees on its combination of spices of its smoked meats.

“Barbecue is right up our alley because our residents love very traditional America food,” chef  Brandy Nahass said as she dished up a sample.

Fans commented on the authentic taste of the offerings of The Town Square Wuesthoff Assisted Living in Viera. It’s not surprising since chef Darren Greenup is a barbecue veteran and teammate Trevor Delaney is a soul food-expert, both favoring dishes with Down South appeal.

The Town Square chefs Darran Greenup and Trevor Delaney with Celia Babb. “We got a lot of comments that our barbecue brought back sweet memories of down home,” Greenup said.

For Victoria Landing Waterfront Resort Assisted Living chef Jon Bradford, raves from attendees was a side dish.

“It was all about the veterans, treating them and honoring for the sacrifices they have made,” he said.

The event’s starring attraction was the “Spirit of  ’45” video created by Senior Life, showcasing a sampling of 50 Space Coast residents interviewed about their first-hand experience of the day they heard that World War II was over.

Victoria Landing chef Jon Bradford.“I am so thankful to Senior Life for creating this video for current and future generations to know what we went through, experiences many of us have kept to ourselves and not even shared with our children, because, well, that’s just our way,” said Margaret Bayer, who at 85 was a high school sophomore and like all families ate at the mercy of ration books and did without personal items that today’s youths may take for granted.

In addition to the lunch provided by senior communities: 

Dessert was provided by Consulate Health Care of Melbourne. 

Senior Life’s veterans publication Stripes sponsored live music of the era from Hot Cocoa.

Souvenir photos against a back-in-time green screen was sponsored by National Cremation Society.

Simplifying Senior Living provided bottled water.

Event sponsors included Indian River Colony Club, Wuesthoff Health System, Victory Florida, Health First Health Plans and Florida Institute of Technology.

Funds raised at the totally free event allowed the all-volunteer Space Coast Honor Flight to send World War II veterans on a trip to see their battle memorials in Washington, D.C.

For information on the upcoming Senior Life Boomer Bash & Senior Expo with Veterans Salute Nov. 6, call