He calls it a “Key West retirement.”
“I’m retiring from my first full-time job, but keeping my second full-time job,” Gordon Ross said, laughing last week over lunch while fielding calls and answering texts about deep fryers and ticket packages for the final Master Chefs’ Classic he’ll coordinate for the nonprofit Monroe Association for Remarkable Citizens (MARC).
The culinary competition that takes place Sunday, Jan. 26 on the pier at Margaritaville Resort is the largest annual fundraiser for the organization that provides life skills and services for intellectually disabled adults in the Florida Keys.
For the past 13 years, Ross has worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. handling MARC’s donor development and public relations, and for the past seven years, he’s gone straight from his office there to the front desk at Island House men’s guesthouse, where he works most nights until midnight.
The Ohio native moved to Key West 49 years ago.
“August 26, 1970,” he said with no hesitation. “I had just graduated high school in Rocky River, Ohio. My tentative plan was to be a marine biologist, starting at the junior college down here.”
The science career didn’t work out, but the social life certainly did.
Ross tended bar, spent some time with Tennessee Williams and eventually started raising money for Key West’s countless charities.
“My friends were all performers, musicians, drag queens, you name it,” Ross recalled. “We always wanted to help, but we didn’t have any money to donate.”
Enter Gordon Ross & Friends, an annual variety show that for 19 years raised money for AIDS Help, while Ross coordinated other performances for other charities.
“I like to do events that make people say, ‘I really want to be here for this again next year,’” Ross said. “And I know we’ve accomplished that with Master Chefs’ Classic.”
The culinary competition is open to any chef, restaurant, caterer or food service business that wants to enter a dish in one of three categories: appetizer, entree or dessert. Contestants prepare 375 tapas-sized pieces of their entry, Ross said, “So all attendees are guaranteed to get plenty of food without places running out, and tickets include unlimited food and wine.”
“The success of the Master Chefs’ Classic is largely due to the support of Diane Schmidt and her food-and-beverage team at Margaritaville Resort,” he said.
“I’m just thrilled that after this event, when I retire, I’ll be able to approach people without them turning away, assuming I’m about to ask them for money — because I always was.
“I’ll still be asking hotel guests for money, you know, at my second full-time job, but at least they’re getting a room key from me.”
Master Chefs’ Classic
4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26