Enter some of the best kitchens in Miami to get a taste of what their chefs are cooking up morning, noon and night. Their creative culinary masterpieces are sure to make your mouth water and inspire you to dine out like never before.
Text by Ryan Jarrell Photos by Edward Leal | May 12, 2018 | People

Baires Grill
1010 S. Miami Ave., Brickell

“My family taught me the art of delivering love through food. My home is where I learned everything that I bring to my craft every day!”

Having prepared plates for the likes of The Obamas and the King & Queen of Spain, one would think Executive Chef Andreina Protti’s cuisine-themed anecdotes would solely involve glamorous halls and the clink of professionally polished silverware. When asked about her fondest food-related memories, however, this modest and minimalist chef paints a portrait that’s roots-driven, rustic and ultimately loving. “When I was a child, my family would travel to my grandmother’s farm where we were always greeted with a table full of homemade food made with ingredients from her garden,” she says. “I would wake up with the smell of a sauce she would cook for hours and her ravioli, which she used to make one by one!” Setting these memories as a benchmark for her career, Protti works to imbue that same sense of endearment to every dish she prepares at Baires Grill in Brickell. “I want to make people feel like they’re walking into my grandmother’s kitchen each time they come in to dine with us — like they’re at their family’s table on a Sunday afternoon,” she says. “The best dishes are those tied to memories like that!” Unmoved by modish trends and overdeveloped menus, Protti prizes an uncomplicated approach to her menu and her life. “I try to be natural, genuine and simple,” she says. “Simplicity is the most important concept in my life. My dishes are like that — no tricks, no makeup, no decoration at all, just simple recipes made with the freshest ingredients.”

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

“My earliest food memory is watching my mom create great meals for family and friends — she really taught me to enjoy cooking and how to get creative in the kitchen!”

Step into Perricone’s at 9 a.m. on any given morning and you won’t see your typical gradually stirring workplace. Trudging footsteps toward the breakroom are exchanged for the whip-crack pace of waitresses swiftly crossing the dining room floor, the gurgle of coffee pots replaced with the murmur of idling trucks disgorging pallets of fresh produce. Amidst all this, Executive Chef Barry Walling conducts the chaos, soft-spoken, meticulous and firmly in control. Born and raised in the Northeast, Walling had no idea his future lay in the culinary arts until his first job in the industry at 21. Cutting his teeth under the tutelage of Chef Richard Schneider at the prestigious Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, Walling’s formative training years were spent ping-ponging across the U.S. “The great thing about working at a larger organization like Harrah’s is that it opens the door to many other outlets,” he says, mentioning he’s done everything from running resort kitchens in the Sierra Nevadas to catering large-scale NASCAR events and opening casual neighborhood bistros around the country. Although Miami might seem an odd choice for one so well-traveled across the continent, Walling sees his home in South Florida and his employer as a circuitous return to his roots. “Being raised in New Jersey, Perricone’s brings me back to the neighborhood restaurants I grew up with, places where the owners knew who you were when you walked in the door — just like Mr. Perricone does here.”

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

“At 18, I came to the U.S. and decided to make cooking my profession, and the kitchen my home. Although it’s one of the most challenging jobs around, it can also be one of the most rewarding!”

An immigrant with a penchant for great food arrives in New York City at the tender age of 18, and through hard work, determination, adaptability and talent, he skyrockets through the ranks in and out of the kitchen. Sufficiently trained in his chosen craft, he utilizes his God-given culinary talents to grow and prosper in a field where appetites rule and every meal is one to remember. No, this is not the storyline for a contentiously political Super Bowl commercial or highbrow Oscar-nominated drama. The story above, as saturated as it is with the mythology of our country, is the story of Brazilian chef extraordinaire Joao “Juca” Oliveira, Founder & Executive Chef of famed wood-fired trattoria Tutto Pizza & Pasta. Born in Brazil, some of Oliveira’s earliest memories are suffused with the intimate and comforting food culture that has made his restaurant such a rousing success across Miami. “Growing up, my parents, my siblings and I would sit down every single day for lunch — no one was allowed to miss it,” he says. “It was Thanksgiving every day!” Intimately familiar with reinvention, The Magic City seemed an obvious place to open and operate his first restaurant. “Miami’s culinary culture is in its infancy right now, and I think that makes it an exciting place to be a chef and food lover,” he says. “We’re still finding ourselves, and I love the potential.” So what does this world-class chef have in store next for our fair city? “Ha!” he quips, “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see!”

Toro Toro
InterContinental Miami
100 Chopin Plaza, Downtown Miami

“The culinary culture in Miami is ultimately about combining flavors from all over the world — I pride myself on incorporating that quality into every dish on the menu in as many creative ways as possible.”

If you ask any great chef about their inception into the culinary craft and one will rarely hear tales of scowling sous chefs and the hours spent learning the most menial of knife skills, of long nights slaving over a sink of dirty dishes and the fierce pride that accompanies successfully serving a packed dining room. No, ask any truly great chef worth their seasoning of how it all started and they almost invariably recall the warmth and love of a well-fed home. Chef Jhonnatan Contreras of Toro Toro is no different. “I’d spend whole days with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen, asking questions about different ingredients and flavors,” he says. “They started giving me small tasks like peeling fruits and vegetables; then before I knew it, I was cooking full meals for my entire family!” Transforming this childhood pastime into a globetrotting career as a chef to some of the world’s most elegant eateries, Contreras still finds himself driven by that basic curiosity, whether ensconced in the stark beauty of the Emirates or serving guests in Downtown Miami. “All of the tools and experiences I’ve gathered from my travels are reflected in my work,” he says. “Wherever I go, I make it a habit to ask about local ingredients. I love to experiment, and it helps me get a glimpse into different cultures.” Although he considers himself a global citizen, eager to inflect his dishes with the diversity of tastes offered throughout the planet, ask him about the meal he loves the most and he answers as any good Venezuelan would. “Arepas,” he says without skipping a beat. “I especially like the ones with chicken and avocado!”