South Florida's chef Tommy Valdes appears on Food Network

Tommy Valdes (in white) is competing against three other contestants in the Food Network's "Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell." (Food Network/Courtesy)

If you dined at Trattoria Bella Cibo during its four-year run in Margate, you know chef Tommy Valdes. He’s the guy who might have told you that a chef is only as good as his sauce and meatballs.

Valdes, 49, sold his restaurant last October, had a hip replacement and is finally finding time to spend with his three daughters, ages 15 to 26. He also threw his name into the hat to appear on the Food Network’s “Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell.”

Valdes will make his “Food Network” debut at 10 p.m. Thursday in an episode in which the owners of Tavern 1757 in Derby, Conn., search for an executive chef to transform their restaurant into the rustic Italian hot spot of their dreams. Each episode is a kind of live tryout for four chefs vying for a new job. Burrell acts as coach and taskmaster.

What have you been doing since you sold your restaurant?


Photos and review of country star Brad Paisley playing the Cruzan

I’ve been working with a cousin who is a private investigator. He thought there might be a niche for me in the food forensics area — people swapping out basa for grouper, changing labels on olive oils and wines. I’ve also been doing consulting with restaurants.

Do you miss the everyday business of cooking and managing a restaurant?

Do I miss it? I think I’ll miss it till the day I die. I don’t think there’s anything else I want to do but be in the food business. I never tried anything else because I’ve been so happy. Cooking’s an extension of my life.

What made you want to appear on the show?

Well, right now, I gave up on the brick and mortar for a while. I put in my 30 years of cooking and want to get into TV. I want to do something bigger and better.

How was your experience?

It was unbelievable. Flying up to Connecticut, it was overwhelming. It was so professionally done. Working with Anne was great. Working with the producer and people on the set was great. It was just the greatest experience I’ve had so far in the television business.

What’s next for you?

I have a big following here in South Florida. Hopefully, this will take me to the next level. It’s only a taste. I’m going to get my own show sooner or later.

Tommy Valdes will appear 10 p.m. Thursday on “Chef Wanted With Anne Burrell” on the Food Network.