Chef’s Special

Hungry? The chefs we’ve gathered on the following pages will make your tastebuds dance and your senses rejoice — no matter in which part of town you find yourself dining.
Compiled by David C. Cleland Profile photos: Antonio Eli Food photos: respective establishments | June 23, 2018 | People

Julian A. Baker
Toscana Divino
900 South Miami Ave., Brickell

Education: “Culinary school in UK & apprenticeship @ Savoy Hotel London.”
First kitchen experience: “It was full of pressure, expectations and a very fast pace. These are the same things that I love about the job today.”
Culinary style: “I try not to stay with one style or trend, I like them all. Clean flavors and presentations are important, I don’t like overpowering flavors.”
The menu: “A balance of tradition and modern — from flavor combinations to presentations and cooking techniques.”
The vibe: “The restaurant is always social with constant conversation and laughter.”
Inspiration: “Travel, seasons, climates, other restaurants and chefs.”
Most popular dish: “Our menu is pretty well-balanced, but our homemade pastas are always a customer favorite.”
Most popular drink: “The Prato — made with dark rum, fresh strawberries, raspberry and mint.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “The Pappa al Pomodoro w/ Organic Egg, I took a traditional Tuscan dish and made it enjoyable and familiar for our market.
Favorite part of the job? “How we as a team come together through spending many hours together.”
Most challenging? “The constant goal of attaining and maintaining superior quality and customer satisfaction.”
Goals for the future? “To evolve and maintain a sense of freshness while keeping our restaurant enjoyable to diners.”

Roger Barrios
Perricone’s Marketplace & Café
15 SE 10th St., Brickell

Education: “The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York.”
First kitchen experience: “I first started when I was 16 as a dishwasher and fell in love with the atmosphere of a kitchen.”
Culinary style: “My style leans toward traditional Italian, but at Perricone’s we do many crossover dishes from Asian, Latin and Mediterranean cuisines.”
The menu: “Our menu has a focus on Italian but also features fresh fish, great steaks and an assortment of healthy salads.”
The vibe: “Warm and inviting, with outdoor seating that continues inside the restaurant.”
Inspiration: “I draw my inspiration from my years of experience and the desire to give our guests an unforgettable experience.”
Most popular dish: “Our pastas and salads.”
Most popular drink: “Our Fresh Agave Margarita with tequila, organic agave nectar, pure-squeezed persian lime and orange juice.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “Our selection of fresh fish featured on our daily special menu, specifically the Miso-Glazed Sea Bass.”
Favorite part of the job? “Satisfying the desires of our guests — whether they are a business person from Brickell, a local family or one of our many international guests.”
Most challenging? “Continuing to be innovative yet not straying too far from our core values.”
Goals for the future? “Creating new flavor-filled dishes, continuing to be a part of Perricone’s wonderful team and staying at the forefront of the restaurant industry.”

Pratap Rathore
Mint Leaf Indian Brasserie
1063 SE 1st Ave., Miami

Education: “Food & Catering Institute, India.”
First kitchen experience: “From the moment I stepped into my first kitchen, it was a dream come true!”
Culinary style: “I focus on creating authentic Indian cuisine with a twist of innovation and lots of flavor.”
The menu: “It features a great choice for everyone to enjoy.”
The vibe: “The ambiance at our restaurant is vibrant and full of energy.”
Inspiration: “Total guest satisfaction.”
Most popular dish: “Chicken Tikka Masala.”
Most popular drink: “Mango Lassi”
Dish you’re most proud of? “Karahi Lamb.”
Favorite part of the job? “The positive attitude instilled in us by owner Ranjit Sood.”
Most challenging? “Whenever I have to develop new well-balanced, likeable dishes.”
Goals for the future? “To create more awareness for Indian food.”

Moises Reyes
Costa Med
260 Crandon Blvd., Ste. 46, Key Biscayne

Education: “Many years of hard work in the kitchen learning from countless chefs and colleagues.”

First kitchen experience: “I first started out right here in Miami. I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up through the ranks to my current position.”
Culinary style: “My style is a culmination of cuisines from all over The Mediterranean. Most of my dishes are grounded in traditional techniques with a nod to the future and a fusion of different cultures.”
The menu: “The options at Costa Med reflect my style of cooking with a Latin American touch.”
The vibe: “Although a fine dinning establishment, we pride ourselves on giving an intimate and unpretentious experience.”
Inspiration: “The enjoyment I get from a happy customer!”
Most popular dish: “Filet alla Costa Med.”
Most popular drink: “Malbec wine.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “Pasta Frutti Di Mare.”
Favorite part of the job? “Cooking under pressure — there’s nothing like the rush of a kitchen and the thrill of happy customers.”
Most challenging? “Everything outside of the kitchen — from the inventory to the ordering. I live to cook!
Goals for the future? “To continue to make people happy through our thriving and cozy restaurant.”

Joel Huff
500 Brickell Key Dr., Brickell

Education: “I’ve learned different types of cuisines in different places, both nationally and internationally.”
First kitchen experience: “My first experience working in a restaurant was at a very small, peaceful restaurant with only 10 seats. The chef was very hands-on and a very patient teacher.
Culinary style: “I lean toward modern European cuisine with Asian and American influences. I use a lot of modern cooking techniques but the cuisine always stays true to more traditional flavors.”
The menu: “Azul’s menu is very seasonal, playful and always uses the freshest ingredients available.”
The vibe: “Upscale and high-energy. It has a sophisticated city-like vibe in the evenings.”
Inspiration: “Always the product.”
Most popular dish: “The Panzanella Salad, the presentation is beautiful and it contains the freshest organic heirloom tomatoes, fresh burratta cheese, toasted brioche, olive vinaigrette and basil.”
Most popular drink: “Definitely wine. We have more than 700 selections from all over the world.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “The Bacon, Eggs & Toast. It has crispy pork belly, tempura egg, potato puree, melba toast and truffle pork jus.”
Favorite part of the job? “What else — of course, cooking! Creating and coming up with new dishes and having room to work creatively with my ingredients is my favorite part of working in a kitchen.”
Most challenging? “The desk stuff that comes along with being a chef at any restaurant. Costing out my product, staffing, etc.”
Goals for the future? “I want to keep Azul fresh and at the forefront of the culinary scene in Miami, and to keep guests coming back to new and exciting dishes.”

Norman Van Aken
Rooftop @ Miami Culinary Institute
415 N.E. 2nd Ave.

Education: “My education comes from many years in the industry learning and pushing myself to be better every day. I was also presented with an honorary degree from Johnson & Wales.”

First kitchen experience: “My first job was as a busboy at a Holiday Inn in Northern Illinois. I was the happiest when the chef made an extra order of French fries and I got to eat them!”
Culinary style: “I’m known as the founding father of New World Cuisine, which is the fusion of cuisines of Latin, Asian, African, Caribbean and American influences.”
The menu: “The menu is diverse and tells a story.”
The vibe: “Sophisticated and urban cool.”
Inspiration: “Latin, Caribbean & Asian cuisines with specific attention to seasonability and regionality.”
Most popular dish: “The Pan-Cooked Filet of Key West Yellowtail.”
Most popular drink: “The Classic Mojito.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “I’m proud of many in that the guests have accorded them ‘their favorites’ — I’d guess there are about 10 of this stature.”
Favorite part of the job? “I especially love to teach and educate, also seeing those moments of “aha!” and bliss make all the long hours worth it.”
Most challenging? “Meetings.”
Goals for the future? “Getting more involved with the programs at Miami Culinary Institute and creating a farm garden in Homestead. I’m also excited about my 5th cookbook: My Key West Kitchen.”

Jeff McInnis
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
1600 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach

Education: “Johnson & Wales.”
First kitchen experience: “Working in a restaurant as a dishwasher. One day, one of the chefs threw a hot sauté pan at my head and knocked me down with a mild concussion. I knew from that day forward that it was a crazy, wild, unique industry and I wanted more.”
Culinary style: “I cook to please and to excite my customers by giving them something amazing. A wise chef/mentor of mine once told me ‘you’re only as good as your worst plate’ — those words have always kept me on my toes to push for perfection.”
The menu: “The menu at Yardbird is a humble approach to modern Southern American Cuisine.”
The vibe: “It’s loud, exciting, fun and busy, Plus, the open kitchen ensures you’re always in the middle of the action during your meal.”
Inspiration: “Fresh and seasonal ingredients.”
Most popular dish: “The Shrimp & Grits.”
Most popular drink: “The Pork Chop.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “Llewellyn’s Fine Fried Chicken. The dish takes 27 hours to complete and is not to be missed! It’s Owner John Kunkel’s grandmother’s recipe and dates back 150 years!”
Favorite part of the job? “I’ll always enjoy hopping on the grill or sauté station to go through a busy service and cook with my colleagues and friends.”
Most challenging? “Sometimes I get pulled into all sorts of non-cooking duties, including involvement in human resources, public relations and construction/maintenance. It’s always a learning experience.”
Goals for the future? “To live life to the fullest, keep in touch with my friends and family and continue to bring customers deliciously authentic Southern fare.”

Joshua Wahler
4250 Salzedo St.
Village of Merrick Park, Coral Gables

Education: “Arts Institute of New York City.”
First kitchen experience: “Waking up at 5 a.m. to make bagels as a high school student in New Jersey.”
Culinary style: “I’ve always enjoyed simple dishes that concentrate on using fresh, high-quality ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible.”
The menu: “We have an upscale casual menu featuring American cuisine with Mediterranean influences complemented by a full sushi bar.”
The vibe: “The vibe is casual, but definitely chic. It’s got a great mix of young professionals, executives, neighborhood families, ladies enjoying happy hour, and couples out for a romantic evening.”
Inspiration: “The menu is really inspired by the name “Crave” and truly contains anything you would crave.”
Most popular dish: “Our menu has a lot of fan favorites including the S’mores Brownie and Kogi Beef Tacos, but our top-seller is the Mexican Roll.”
Most popular drink: “The Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale is my personal favorite, but with a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” winning wine list and a specialty drink menu worthy of any mixology joint, it’s hard to crown a most popular.”
Dish you’re most proud of? “The Pan-Seared Sea Bass is definitely the most elegant and jaw-dropping.”
Favorite part of the job? “Pumping up the team to be fully energized, feeling great about putting out amazing-quality product in a timely manner and ensuring total guest satisfaction.”
Most challenging? “The most challenging aspect of my job is to make sure that every guest leaves with a phenomenal experience, wanting to tell their friends about Crave, and wanting to return themselves.”
Goals for the future? “My goals for this year and the future are to bring Crave to the forefront of the Miami dining scene.”