You’re invited into the kitchens of some of the most creative chefs in Miami to see what inspires them, what they’re cooking up and where they’re going. If their passion for food awakens your appetite, head over to their respective restaurants and have a taste of what sets them apart.
Text by Sandy Lindsey Photos by Ximena Etchart | May 20, 2018 | People

Virgile Brandel
Atrio Restaurant & Wine Room at Conrad Miami
1395 Brickell Ave., Brickell

“I’m a lot like a fine Champagne. Besides being the region where I grew up, Champagne is a wine of celebration and memories. It embodies happiness and is fantastic for sharing.”

Virgile Brandel says his grandmother owned a café in Champagne, France that inspired him to get in the kitchen and make a living doing what he loves. “We spent hours cooking together,” he says. “I even grew my own garden with fresh vegetables. Since then, his ensuing career as a chef has led him to work all over the world, with each experience influencing his culinary style. “Traveling and absorbing various cultures are big inspirations for me — I love using spices, herbs and fresh produce from around the globe that reflect local cultures, and adapting these techniques to each dish,” he says. “My menu is a multicultural collaboration focusing on fresh seafood like the Kusshi Oysters, plus wonderful meats like the 100% Grass-Fed Tenderloin.” If you’ve ever visited Atrio Restaurant & Wine Room at Conrad Miami, you’re familiar with their stunning views from every vantage point, but what you may not realize is that the restaurant has injected chic, modern, vibrant, exciting, warm and romantic undertones throughout its various spaces to ensure that every visit is one to remember — regardless of the occasion. Whether in their private wine room with a big group, enjoying a quiet dinner for two in the vista-laden main dining room or grabbing a drink with co-workers at The Bar @ Level 25, one thing’s certain, you’ll leave with a smile and a belly full of goodness. “I genuinely enjoy interacting with people and exchanging ideas,” he says. “The view of Miami’s sunshine and beaches and the overall vibe at our restaurant is unmatched in the city — and the world.”

Diego Solano
Bulla Gastrobar
2500 Ponce De Leon, Coral Gables

“If I were on a menu, I’d probably be seafood. I was born in Costa Rica where we have different types of fish. When I was younger, I’d go fishing almost every weekend.”

Diego Solano used to cook fried eggs, fresh rice and breaded chicken for his younger sister while his parents were out working long hours when he was a kid. “I’d tell my sister I was a famous chef, and for some reason she actually believed me.” Today, he directs the menu at Spain-influenced Bulla Gastrobar in Coral Gables and has expanded his fanfare way past his little sister. “The goal is to constantly evolve our offerings and continually create new dishes with whatever’s fresh and new to the market,” he says. “We use simple, fresh ingredients every day and make sure we establish a vibrant ambience with amazing drinks and outstanding tapas so that our guests always feel at home.” Whether you’re a newbie or a regular, Chef Solano says you have to try the Huevos Bulla, a signature dish with homemade potato chips, potato foam, eggs, Serrano ham and truffle oil. “There are no words to describe what I feel when I see our guests enjoying my food and having a great time.” And that passion for his patrons is what keeps him looking toward the future. “We plan to keep opening new restaurants nationwide and expanding our concepts,” he says. Next on the agenda is a new location in Doral this summer, an autumn launch in Orlando and a northward expansion in the near future.

Klaus Happel
InterContinental Miami
100 Chopin Plaza, Downtown Miami

“The ingredient that best personifies me is definitely a great condiment — especially mustards, I can eat mustard with almost everything, whether sweet, medium or spicy.”

When Klause Happel first stepped foot inside the famed Savoy in London many years ago, he knew he’d found his calling. “There were 100 cooks working in sync producing exceptional food and making memories,” he says. “I knew I wanted to be a part of something big like that.” Today, amid his bustling kitchen and dining rooms at InterContinental Miami, he likes to keep it simple with his world-class, global cuisine featuring a local twist and fresh products from local vendors. “It’s always best to have no more than 3 ingredients on a plate,” he says. “Less is more.” And he’s right. Customers are raving about his famous filet mignon and his signature molecular gastronomy dishes — all except maybe one who was craving a special order. “Many years ago, a customer requested Rocky Mountain Oysters — Google it — do I have to say more?” But the odd request didn’t phase the chef in the slightest. “Coming from a family of architects and admiring their craft, I constantly try to find new and exciting ingredients to create new dishes,” he says. “Instead of wood, concrete and glass, I use protein, vegetables and starches.” And, he says, he loves every part of his job. “It’s incredible to work with young, enthusiastic chefs, learning from them and the endless opportunities to travel and discover new flavors and ingredients,” he says. “One day we may be whipping up a 5-star, 12-course dinner for 6 and the next day we’re catering a gala in the Ballroom for 1,000.” Through it all, he and his team are at the forefront of directing each diner’s culinary experience. “It’s a great honor and challenge to take over the hotel’s culinary responsibilities previously run by the well-respected and seasoned Chef Alex Feher for the past 15 years,” he concludes. “I look forward to bringing my knowledge to Miami and introducing my style of cooking to the team and guests.”

Jean Paul Lourdes
Marion Miami & El Tucán
1111 SW 1st Ave., Brickell

“The ingredient that best describes me is water because it’s adaptable — and that’s one of the greatest strengths a chef can have in the kitchen.”

Jean Paul Lourdes has always admired Pierre Gagnaire and was lucky enough to have dined in the legendary chef’s restaurant in Paris. “I was completely in awe of his talent and was so impressed with the restaurant that a week later I decided I wanted to be a chef and successfully applied for a stage.” As he evolves his craft, his love of food is kindled by traversing through various regions and experiencing different cultures and cuisines. “Each region I’ve travelled to has had a distinct style and different strengths which is where I take most of my inspiration from.” Today, his menu at Marion Miami & El Tucán is a modern interpretation of Mediterranean classics. “The goal is always to create a relaxed, transportative, elevated vibe without feeling snobby,” he says. When you stop in, you have to try the Galician Octopus, a modern interpretation of a classic dish from Spain. “The high-quality of this dish speaks for itself,” he says. In fact, it’s a far cry from the strangest ingredient he’s ever used: ants. “They might be a strange choice for many people, but they’re high in protein, acidic in taste and add a very interesting texture to dishes,” he says. And it’s that understanding of unique ingredients, willingness to try new things and emphasis on using local and seasonal ingredients that has made him a success in and out of the kitchen. “I love that my work is always intense, fast-paced and demands perfection every single time,” he says. “I draw much of my inspiration from Mother Nature, the world of haute couture fashion and my own adventures throughout foreign lands.”

Julia Doyne
The Forge
432 41st St., Miami Beach

“The ingredient that best describes me is sugar — multifaceted in sometimes surprising ways, and covering a broad spectrum of flavors.”

Growing up, Julia Doyne’s family gatherings were always centered around food. “My favorite childhood memories revolve around making chocolate chip cookies with my mom and omelets with my dad,” she says. “I’ve always liked to play with my ingredients, incorporating plenty of bright colors, flavors and fun spins on old classics.” As the first female Executive Chef of The Forge, one of Miami Beache’s longest-standing and most respected restaurants, she’s excited for her new role at the quintessential fine dining legend. “The Forge is foremost a steakhouse, so we have a variety of different cuts of meat,” she says. “Unique to our location is that you can customize your steaks by choosing from an assortment of rubs, sauces and what we call ‘accessories’ to pick from. We also offer composed dishes, which explore cuisines from all around the world.” And, she says, she loves educating people in and out of the kitchen about food. “The most rewarding is when a customer comes in saying ‘I don’t like that — I’ll never try that’ and then they leave with a different opinion.” When it comes to the future of her new post, the outlook is as bright as the dishes she serves. “I want to continue to push the standard of excellence at The Forge, while adding my own touch,” she says. “Additionally, I want to help be part of Miami’s culinary movement — I hope to play a part in making Miami a food destination city.”