Susan Benton, Owner
No matter where I may travel, it is my mission to source out the best, most unique food and drink possible. I enjoy meeting the people behind the operations; from chefs, fisherman, farmers, artisan cheese makers, wine makers and distillers just to name a few. As a food and travel writer and home cook, I find their work compelling, and I am humbled to be surrounded by people in an industry so driven and dedicated to their craft. Their work feeds our basic needs, yet can be transformed into magical works of artistry on a plate or in a glass.
As a culinary enthusiast and entrepreneur living on the Gulf Coast, 30AEats.com was born during the 2011 BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Many like myself worried about the health of our Gulf, it’s inhabitants, our own safety, seafood and sustainability. As a mother, food and travel writer, photographer, and artist who is passionate about my local community, I decided to create a website to share with readers the people behind our food, where good food comes from, and where it could be found. My goal is to help others discover the flavors of our Northwest Florida region, so that they in turn will support the people that feed us, invest in it and themselves, and buy local products.
Along with the above, I also develop recipes for magazines, chefs and food companies. My work includes media appearances, speaking and culinary engagements, content creation, brand representation, judging food related competitions with celebrity chefs and other note worthy individuals, and I am finally writing my first cookbook to be released late 2017. I have raised two children in South Walton since their kindergarten days who are now off pursing their own aspirations, and I am married to a talented Pensacola orthopaedic surgeon, which does come in handy.
In the late 1990’s, I was in a near fatal head-on collision. The easiest way to describe the outcome is to say I fractured everything from the chin down. The left side of my body was crushed, along with both legs, my left side being the worst, and I sustained internal injuries as well.
Divine intervention, my incredible medical trauma team (which yes, included my now husband), and my family nourished me through more than forty surgical procedures, helping me get to the place where I am today. Alive, walking and back to enjoying life.
My former husband, whom I met at LSU-Baton Rouge, was raised in his parents New Orleans restaurant. His uncles and cousins were shrimpers and fishermen supplying fresh Gulf seafood to local eating establishments, while his mother (since passed) and aunts were chefs, cooks and seafood wholesalers; many still working today in the Rigolets, and living along the Chef Menteur.
Being around his family opened my eyes to a different way of life and eating, and I liked it. While attending LSU, I gained knowledge about pairing food and drink by working in a local wine and cheese shop, and when not modeling for Maison Blanche (no longer in existence), I enjoyed slipping on my white shrimp boots and escaping on the weekends to the swamps or salt water.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education, a minor in Health & Nutrition, and worked in the Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Terrebonne Parish school systems, prior to working with United Way South Louisiana and The American Cancer Society in Mobile and New Orleans.
My years spent in high school and college in New Orleans fueled my passion for good food, and for learning about South Louisiana’s history and heritage while my father was stationed, and later retired there. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, with a stop on the lower east coast, and abroad for a short time as a child, I enjoyed crabbing after grade school along the river banks in Charleston, creating shrimp pancit with our housekeeper Lourdes in the Philippines, and cooking my first significant meal at our home in our Algiers kitchen at the age of fifteen. It was jambalaya in my grandmother’s black iron skillet using Leon Soniat’s recipe from La Bouche Creole. I still have the cookbook. The pages are stuck together, ears turned and spiral binding broken, but it stays towards the front of the collection in my pantry.
As the daughter of a Naval Officer who traveled internationally, I was fortunate to learn about new cultures and to try many cuisines. I trotted the globe with the anticipation of each new place we were going to visit or live, but the South beckoned us home.
My father and generations before him hail from Alabama and were in the grocery business in Carbon Hill, while my mother’s family is from Georgia, with some lingering in Savannah. Most migrated to Orlando to live in the “country” rich with orange groves and agriculture where my mother was raised, the landscape never to be the same. My grandmother, Lillie, went on to remarry after my grandfather passed before I was born, and joined the grandfather I grew to know and love as a peanut farmer in Statesboro, Georgia. I adored every minute we spent visiting them on the farm, driving his tractor through the peanut fields, catching catfish in the nearby pond with my sister, and sharing authentic field-to-fork meals with family gathered around a small table in my Memaw’s kitchen. There were also not so fond memories like watching my father ring a chickens neck for the first time, ending up perfectly fried and on our plates for Sunday dinner.
Having been fortunate to spend most of my days in the South, mainly along the Gulf Coast, and Florida’s Northwest Panhandle for the last twenty years, I have built a lifetime of knowledge, skills, and relationships with many magnificent people in the food and travel industry. I am always eager to learn and absorb new ideas, share ways to incorporate and promote local fisherman, chefs, farmers, artisans and restaurants into the “new” movement of the moment, all while savoring the rich history and legacy of our Southern culture.
(Photo credit: Laura Bogan Photography)
Owner of 30AEATS.com
Owner of GulfCoastRestaurants.com
Magazine Contributor to:
Good Grit Magazine-Digital
The Daily Meal-Digital
Emerald Coast Magazine
Beaches, Resorts and Parks
The Seaside Times
Honest Cooking Magazine-Digital
Southern Coterie (Southern Living Blog)-Digital
Coastal Angler Magazine
Former Board Member: Children’s Volunteer Health Network
Member Coastal Conservation Association
Member Association of Food Journalists
Member Association of Food Bloggers
Member James Beard Foundation
Member Southern Foodways Alliance
Member Cultural Arts Alliance
Member (Sustainer) Junior League of Pensacola
Member of The Fishin Chix, Pensacola
Caroline Coker, Web Manager and Social Media Specialist
Caroline Coker is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition. She currently is employed with DCH Health System in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and is the web manager and social media specialist for GulfCoastRestaurants.com. Caroline also develops healthy recipes for 30AEats.com and loves trying new restaurants, eating seafood, and spending time on the beach with her family and friends. Caroline grew up in the small town of Seaside, FL and is proud to call 30A home.
Magazine Contributor to The Daily Meal
ServSafe and CPR certified.