Chef Jim Shirley Honored as 16th Van Ness Butler Jr. Award Winner

February 18, 2021 by SoWal Staff

In 2020, Chef Jim Shirley received two honors, the first was becoming the 16th recipient of the Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award.

The award honors and recognizes excellence in the hospitality, service, travel/tourism, advertising and promotion industries, as well as contributions to the local community. Shirley’s contributions to the community throughout the years make him a natural choice for the honor.

“It’s an incredible honor to get the Van Ness Butler Jr. Award,” Shirley says.  “I mean, how does that happen to a chef in South Walton? I’ve seen all the great work done by the people that have received this before and it’s amazing when you achieve something like this.”

As proud as he is of the blossoming culinary scene, Shirley may be just as proud, if not more so, of the giving nature that’s ingrained in the South Walton community. He’s a true believer in giving back to those in need, whether it’s through food or through any of the local charities and professional groups he volunteers with.

“I think you should just give back instinctively,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to think about it. It’s just an immediate reaction — if somebody falls down, you pick them back up. That’s just the way you do things.”

Nowhere was that mindset more evident than in the days and weeks that followed the landfall of Hurricane Michael to the areas east of Walton County.  Thousands of people found themselves without housing, food and basic human needs. That’s when Shirley, along with other area chefs and community members, jumped into action. As a chef, Shirley was uniquely positioned to help feed people. He had tents, cooking utensils, food and the manpower, tools he immediately put to work feeding the hungry, and in some ways giving hope to the hopeless.

“Everybody took turns, really,” he says of the efforts. “The whole area just stepped up.”

 All told, Shirley estimates that he and his team served somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 meals. He didn’t do it for press clippings, a pat on the back or for notoriety; for Shirley, it was just the right thing to do.
“It just shows what a great community South Walton is,” he said. “It’s really just an amazing group.”

Despite all of the professional accolades and the honors he’s received throughout his culinary career, Shirley remains down to earth and approachable. He’s not the type to boast about his achievements in conversation. Instead, he continues to take the same simple approach that has brought him to where he is today.

“When I think about what’s happening around me, I just like to think about whether or not people are comfortable. Everything that’s in me is about hospitality,” he says.

Learn more about Chef Jim and the award here:

Also in 2020, Chef Jim Shirley was elected as The Chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). The FRLA members have over one million employees. In this role, Jim is the chair of the association's board and the executive committee. As Chairman, Chef Jim Shirley works with FRLA senior leadership and staff to identify and achieve priorities for the year to advance Florida’s hospitality industry. He helps direct policy efforts and serves as a liaison and leader to Florida’s statewide hospitality industry and to FRLA’s 10,000 members across the state. He also appoints various committee chairpersons, with the approval of the Board of Directors and works to further the purposes of this association and the attainment of its objectives.

"My main goal as Chairman of the FRLA is keeping our brothers and sisters in business,” said Chef Jim Shirley, 2021 FRLA Chairman of the Board and owner of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises. “Working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, we will provide hotels and restaurants with the tools they need to keep their doors open. Our successful advocacy at the state and national levels is critical to the survival of our businesses, and I look forward to making great strides this year.”

More about our friend Jim:
Jim Shirley is a chef and restaurateur in South Walton, Florida, owning Great Southern Café, 45 Central Wine Bar, and b.f.f. in Seaside, Florida, as well as The Bay Restaurant and Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria in South Walton. He is also co-owner of Meltdown on 30A in Seaside. Jim was previously the president of the Northwest Florida FRLA chapter and president of the Escambia County chapter. He is currently the treasurer of FRLA’s Educational Foundation. Jim sits on the board of the Children’s Home Society and was formerly on the Seaside Neighborhood School board for three years. Jim represented Florida in the 2015 Great American Seafood Cook-Off. In addition, Jim has been invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City four times. He is the author of the cookbook, “Good Grits! Southern Boy Cooks,” a compilation of his best recipes along with entertaining stories. Jim is the 2020 Van Ness Butler Jr. Award recipient. In 2020, Jim was appointed as The Chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA).


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