Meet some of Miami’s top toques ready to make all of your culinary dreams come true with signature techniques sure to satiate even the most voracious appetites and whet even the most discerning palates — one delicious plate at a time.
Text by Ryan Jarrell | Photos by Edward Leal | March 9, 2018 | People

Santiago Gomez

Cantina La Veinte
495 Brickell Ave., Brickell

“The best advice I’ve ever received in all my experiences in and out of the kitchen? It’s a mantra I live by to this day: Cook with love!”

A masterfully trained Mexican chef whose talent in the kitchen seems to know no bounds, more than simply preparing exquisite meals with laser-like precision, Chef Santiago Gomez of Cantina La Veinte has a greater goal in mind when enlivening our city with his elegant edibles: to give Mexican cuisine the standing it deserves in our world’s greater culinary consciousness. A Mexico City native who tastefully tows the line between the traditional and modern in his menus, Gomez’s start in the star-studded world of top-tier cheffing began in a manner unsuspected. “I actually got involved in cooking while making deliveries for a seafood distributor,” says Gomez, who’s past credits include training at Mexico City’s famed Centro Culinario Ambrosia and Barcelona’s renowned Hoffman. “That job gave me experience with the best ingredients you could ever imagine because I was looking in on the kitchens as they worked, and I saw how everyone fit together perfectly as a team. I knew I wanted to be a part of that!” Later developing a key relationship with hit restaurateur Nobu Matsushisa and increasingly convinced of Miami’s status as an emerging food capital of the world, Chef Gomez developed the original Cantina La Veinte’s menu in Mexico City before finally settling in Miami. Also driving the concepts behind hit hip Brickell eatery Tacology, Gomez has been stunned by the inter-culinary dialogue taking place between his new home and the nation of his birth. “I love cooking Mexican food in Miami because it makes me re-examine my roots,” he says. “It’s exciting to cook for a population so in love with all types of Latin American cuisine!”

Barry Walling

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

“At Perricone’s, we are all dedicated, caring professionals who take great pride in our work and menu offerings.”

It’s taken for granted that, when looking at a larger city’s top restaurants, two types are apparent: The first is the tastefully traditional haunt, unchanged and equitably beloved for the decades of its existence; the other is the innovative and endlessly inventive upstart, certain that its status as trendsavvy will ensure a continuing customer base. It’s a rare institution (and Executive Chef) that wishes to meld these particularly powerful molds, but then again, Perricone’s is not your typical local eatery. And Chef Barry Walling, the much-vaulted veteran responsible for crafting and serving elegant menus for eateries all across our continent, isn’t your typical chef. New Jersey-born and well-versed in running, in all aspects, both savvy and succesful kitchens, Walling thinks there’s something undeniably spectacular about the way Perricone’s approaches feeding our city. “Perricone’s is an iconic Miami restaurant; our food is straight-forward Italian-American,” he says. “We serve Italian comfort food and accentuate it with a variety of fresh fish and pasta specials.” An accomplished chef who prizes not just taste, but the overall wholesomeness of the fare he prepares for the restaurant’s many guests, Walling is careful to temper his decadent dishes with an eye toward the well-being of diners. “We like to prepare menu items that promote healthy eating,” he says. “When cooking more decadent meals, we try to minimize fats and oils to yield Italian fare that’s both delicious and healthy!”

Clark Bowen

Boulud Sud
255 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Downtown


“Being a great chef means giving constant attention to so many details — from training the kitchen staff to finding the best ingredients. It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing!”

Born and raised in Miami, some of Chef Clark Bowen’s earliest memories of food involve nothing more complex than a suckling pig roasted in la caja china. In his professional career, he dove into the world of fine dining under the stewardship of celebrity Chef Daniel Boulud and is now the Executive Chef for Boulud’s Mediterranean concept, Boulud Sud. Although a world-class chef who could conceivably ply his craft in any major city the world over, Chef Bowen believes that when it comes to emergent culinary scenes, there’s no better place to be than his native Magic City. “All the different Latin and Caribbean cultures in Miami fuse together to make for an interesting environment to learn about cuisine,” says Bowen, who’s worked with Chef Boulud for the past 7 years at his firework French iteration db Bistro Moderne prior to transitioning to Boulud Sud. “Good food always starts with the best ingredients, and we have access to an incredible selection here.” Deeply in love with the French culinary tradition he explored at db Bistro Moderne, Bowen believes that there’s something novel and nurturing in the landmark fare both Chef Boulud and himself have developed. “We are serving, hands down, the most amazing Mediterranean cuisine in Miami — this menu is inspired by the dishes and ingredients of Southern France, Northern Africa and Greece,” he says. “We do a great job of fusing traditional dishes from these regions while also having modern inspirations from Miami and the tropics. Our menu is inspired by the entire Mediterranean basin, allowing you to enjoy all types of far-flung cultures from the comforts of our dining room!”

Jaciel Santos

Steak Brasil
190 SE 1st Ave., Downtown


“Being a chef encompasses a lot of skills and details, but for me, it’s mostly about transforming feelings into meals.”

You might be mistaken when strolling into chic Downtown churrascaria Steak Brasil, that what you are served is mere food. From the bombastic “Bom dia!” that meets you at the door to the artfully arrayed atmosphere of clean, white tablecloths and smiling staff, it’s here that succulent scents suffuse every corner filled with the satisfied and sedate character of its patrons. But make no mistake: This place offers much more than simply the finest chops and cuts ever to grace our city’s buzzing central district. In fact, Steak Brasil serves a mood, an aura, an exclusive, mouth-watering taste of Chef Jaciel Santos’ native nation. A vaulted veteran of the restaurant industry well versed in all its many aspects, Santos believes his role as Executive Chef & Owner involves more than preparing peerless meals for his many clientele. “I try to emphasize the little details,” he says. “Brazil has many rich traditions, and I want to show the best of those to our guests.” Intent that the Magic City should continue to showcase a diverse array of Latin American cultures, Santos believes that our metropolis is a perfect staging ground for an explosive appreciation of all tastes. “Living in Miami has created a thirst to learn and to submerge myself in the diverse pluralism of Miami’s gastronomic scene,” says Santos, who considers his job to extend as much to greeting the guests as to curating his menu. “Ultimately, I want people to enjoy my food with the same harmony that I’ve been blessed with in my life.”toptop

Jean Delgado

Toro Toro
100 Chopin Plz., Downtown


“I Incorporate everything I’ve learned, as well as my passions, techniques and travels, into all of my dishes. I bring memories to my plates, and when people eat it, they feel that.”

It’s not a forgiving profession: You could have the good looks, the most exquisite of knives, the cleanest uniform and all the contacts in the world. You could be on a first-name basis with every reputable wholeseller in the business and have a rolodex chock full of A-list celebrities. But still, at the end of the day, when you’re a chef, if you don’t have talent, you don’t have a thing in the world. Luckily for Jean Delgado, Executive Chef at premier Pan Latin steakhouse Toro Toro, talent is something he has in spades. Leaving his native Puerto Rico for South Florida at the tender age of 18, Delgado’s future seemed uncertain except for the fact that he was willing to do whatever it took to foster his innate talent for the culinary arts. From Fort Lauderdale to quaintly cozy Greenville, South Carolina, to NYC and finally arriving at our own food-focused metropolis, the last 14 years and 4 cities have set the stage for a career that will surely continue to rise. And, although relatively recently arrived to Miami, Delgado firmly believes he has a finessed sense of what drives foodies the world over to flock to our shores. “Miami is a multicultural place where we are surrounded by a lot of diverse flavors and spices,” he says. “People come from all over the world to live here and end up leaving a little of their culture behind. That’s why you can find such an assortment of great restaurants here — from a corner Cuban cafeteria with years of history to some of the most exciting modern fine dining venues in the world.”

Joao “Juca” Oliveira

Tutto Pizza & Pasta
328 Crandon Blvd., Ste. 111, Key Biscayne


“I pour my heart into my creations. Each dish on the menu, every special of the day is thought-out and the ingredients carefully chosen, all so that we can offer our clients the best possible experience every single time they dine with us.”

To outsiders, the pinnacle of a serially successful chef’s career seems easy to imagine. Rave reviews from all manner of cultured publications, world-famous celebrities regularly vying for reservations, a series of restaurants dotting our country all under a curatorial gaze. But such success, although gratifying in a certain sense, is far from the dream of the chef truly married to his craft. Much like expertly prepared entrées, true success comes in the simplicity of preparing foods for a populace all too happy to ask for seconds. Such is the current state of affairs for Tutto Pizza & Pasta’s Chef Joao “Juca” Oliveira, a masterful preparer of fine foods who’s travelled the world and wined and dined august personages only to return to that which truly revives: an enriching life of fine ingredients and a compassionate community. Born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and in charge of restaurants dotting the hottest spots of our East Coast, Oliveira’s earliest experiences with food celebrate his current foray’s finest qualities. “Growing up, my parents, my 6 siblings and myself would sit down every single day for lunch — no one was allowed to miss it,” he says. “I remember from a very young age a large table full of different dishes. It was like Thanksgiving every day. These are my first and most cherished memories of food.” Bringing that same sense of communal solidarity combined with a rarified array of ingredients that display an insider’s knowledge of the finer points of Italian cuisine, Chef Oliveira is a firm believer that one doesn’t have to choose when it comes to running a great restaurant. “What we’re really trying to do here is a combination of high-quality food with great service,” he says. “Some restaurants have one or the other, but I believe there’s no reason you can’t have both!”

Raul Del Pozo

455 Grand Bay Dr., Key Biscayne


“What I love about our menu is that it reflects all of my training and the ingredients that I’ve fallen in love with over the years. I have a strong draw toward fennel, anise, juniper and hyssop, and they each have pride of place in a number of our dishes.”

A celebrated chef who’s spent his career criss-crossing the U.S. to better hone his craft, the seeds of Raul Del Pozo’s chosen vocation were sown long before most are making any decisions on their professional paths. “Some of my earliest memories involve visiting my grandmother’s house and smelling her cooking while watching TV with the family,” says Del Pozo, who currently helms landmark Key Biscayne eatery Lightkeepers. “I used to peek over the counter to try to learn what she was doing.” Initially studying with Chef Cindy Hutson at eclectic Miracle Mile eatery Ortanique, Del Pozo’s initial success on the stovetop pushed him to travel up and down the Eastern seaboard, plying his trade at such celebrated chow houses as Charlotte, North Carolina’s Aria, rarified NYC eatery Daniel and ceaselessly creative concept kitchen Alinea in Chicago before finally arriving back home to work at Barton G. Now helming what has quickly become the most talked-about restaurant on the island, there are a few qualities to Lightkeepers that Del Pozo believes will make it shine for years to come. “We use coastal inspirations from around the world and pair them with locally sourced ingredients and crafted cocktails to achieve a cuisine that’s like no other,” he says. “From our Argentinian charcoal & American cherry wood-burning Josper ovens, to basting every seared fish with brown butter and thyme, we are continually taking all of our offerings to the next level.”

Giancarlo “Wendy” Cacciatori

Via Emilia 9
1120 15th St., Miami Beach

“Miami didn’t shape the way I think about food, it’s my food, my products and my passion that is giving Miami a different perspective!”

More than the tastefully curated décor, more than the smiling faces of painstakingly trained professionals eager to provide sensational service, it’s the smell that really settles one into the exotic aura of Italian eatery Via Emilia 9. Outside these doors, the grind of modern Miami life continues, with all the elations, aggravations and exhaust fumes that entails. Inside, however, one magically shifts continents, and, with little more than a deep inhalation, is ensconced with the exotic and homey in equal measures, a sense of ease and comfort so palpable it even tints the very air inside. The man behind this particular bit of serendipitous sorcery is Chef Giancarlo “Wendy” Cacciatori, a man whose lovingly eccentric approach to family, fun and food is woven into his very name. “When I was born, my mother was determined to call me Wendy, regardless of whether I was a boy or a girl,” he says. “When they registered me with the government, the clerk refused to put down that name. My father asked ‘What’s your name?’ to the clerk, and he said ‘Giancarlo’…‘Fine,’ my dad said, ‘Write that down. We’re going to call him Wendy, anyway!’” Bypassing culinary school in order to study the Italian art of cooking with his grandmother, Cacciatori’s early experiences working in kitchens were filled with the same love of life and rustic rhythms that suffuse the very land he lived in. It’s a tenor and taste he hopes to enlighten our own Magic Citizens with. “At Via Emilia, I offer customers an experience where I strive to pass the love and passion that I have for my food and for my region,” he says. “Our customers are more than just customers, they become like family who feel like they’re having dinner at a friend’s house every time they come in to dine with us.”