Palate Pleasers

For the chefs you’re about to meet, passion, creativity, vision and style combined with an ingrained love of — and respect for — good food whether it’s modern or traditional fare.
Interviews by Stacy Wynn Photos courtesy of respective establishments | June 18, 2018 | People

Richard Sandoval
Toro Toro
100 Chopin Plaza – Lobby
Miami, FL

“I believe in old ways, new hands…I’m passionate about my Mexican heritage but love reinterpreting the classics with modern cooking techniques and infusions of flavor from around the world.”

Education: The Culinary Institute of America
First kitchen experience: “Growing up in Mexico, I spent Sunday afternoons in my grandmother’s kitchen helping her prepare for weekly family feasts. My father also owned restaurants so I spent a lot of time there as well, watching action on the line.”
Culinary style: “I believe in old ways, new hands…I’m passionate about my Mexican heritage but love reinterpreting the classics with modern cooking techniques and infusions of flavor from around the world.”
The menu: “We’re a Pan-Latin steakhouse. The highlight of each meal is your choice of meat, chicken or fish off of the traditional grill…I always choose the rodizio option with unlimited meats served to the table on skewers and sliced.”
The vibe: “Chic, upbeat yet friendly and relaxed.”
Inspiration: “I like introducing diners to the Latin cuisine that I’ve developed during my travels and the endless diversity of ingredients, techniques and cuisines around the world.”
Most memorable compliment: “Several patrons have said that I inspired them to become chefs.”
Favorite dish: “Causa, a Peruvian dish made of a chilled potato cake topped with ceviche or other flavorful salads. The colors are vibrant — we often use purple potato and colorful ceviche — and the flavors are fresh.”
Favorite part of the job? “The people. I’ve traveled around the world to hire the best chefs and source the best products. Also, I like that I never stop learning — there’s always something new to try or taste.”
Most challenging part? “I’m spending 2/3 of the year on the road. My wife and children support everything I do and often meet me at different destinations, but nothing replaces quality time at home.”
What’s in your fridge at home? “Ingredients to whip up Mexican comfort foods like fresh chiles, herbs, Mexican cheeses & tortillas.”
Goals for the future? “I plan on growing several of my scalable concepts — we’re on a roll, so I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon!”

Nick Vazquez
Azúcar Cuban Cuisine
2 Aragon Ave.
Coral Gables, FL

Education: “Sitting next to my mom and watching her cook when she arrived from work was the best culinary education. She taught me that if I learned to cook I would never go hungry.”
First kitchen experience: “I was about 10 years old, home alone and hungry so I decided to make a feast for myself. I opened cans and used whatever was around…to my amazement, it was good. Not too pretty, but good.”
Culinary style: “I specialize in homestyle cooking.”
The menu: “Real authentic Cuban cooking…something that your Aunt Juanita would love.”
The vibe: “Sophisticated, laid-back and cool.”
Inspiration: “Hunger and a thirst to elevate my cuisine to the next level, and always keeping my patrons wanting to come back.”
Most memorable compliment: “A woman approached me, after coming to the restaurant for the first time, and told me that if her mother was still alive she would love my food so much she would kiss me.”
Favorite dish: “I would say it would have to be the breaded steak: Bistec Empanizado El Grande. It’s so homestyle and so country that it makes you feel like you’re eating at your mom’s house.”
Favorite part of the job? “My favorite part of the job is the action and the instant gratification that not many other jobs offer.”
Most challenging? “It’s tough getting together a team that all fire on the same cylinders. You’re dealing with people from all walks of life with all different life issues. Cooking is the easy part.”
What’s in your fridge at home? “Champagne and a great goat cheese.”
Goals for the future? “To open one more restaurant and travel the world eating my way through it!”

Adrianne Calvo
Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar
11510 SW 147 Ave.
Miami FL
305.408.8388; 305.408.8386

Education: Johnson & Wales University
First kitchen experience: “When I was 7, I got a toy kitchen with fake blenders, pots, pans & rubber ingredients.”
Culinary style: “Every dish I create is meant to tantalize all parts of the palate. I also do extensive research on global cuisine. I believe people can travel to a new place by experiencing their cuisine.”
The menu: “We are at a delicious crossroads between a classic steakhouse meets a French restaurant, meets New American cuisine.”
The vibe: “Exactly what you’d find at a gathering in a winery in wine country. People enjoying the ambiance, the wine, the food.”
Inspiration: “I get inspired by everything. It could be a dream, someone I meet or even tasting a bad dish.”
Most memorable compliment: “People ask to marry me all the time. LOL.”
Favorite dish: “Right now, our steaks are my favorite because when I opened my restaurant, I said I’d never be known for steak, just because of the thought of competing with major steakhouses seemed close to impossible…now, we constantly hear people say we make the best steak they’ve ever had.”
Favorite part of the job? “That it’s not at all a job. I wake up and do what I love all day.”
Most challenging? “As a chef, I get excited to use ingredients like foie gras, caviar, prime meats, etc., and as a business owner, I have to create a menu that balances expensive items with inexpensive items and make them equally delicious.”
What’s in your fridge at home? “A ton of beer from BBQ’s and pool parties, a jar of dijon mustard, juice and yogurt. I never eat at home…so my fridge is a very sad place.”
Goals for the future? “To expand Chef Adrianne’s and continue doing what I’m doing by bringing my guests a great dining experience they’ll never forget!”

Tara Abrams
OTC (Over The Counter)
1250 S Miami Ave.
Miami, FL

“When it comes to cooking, I live by the KISS Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I’m a firm believer that good ingredients and good food can stand on their own.”

Education: Lynn University
First kitchen experience: “I always loved cooking with my mom, so making mashed potatoes was one of the first experiences I remember. Professionally, I started in the restaurant industry running food and working the expo line. One day, a line cook got sick and the chef sent me to work in the pantry. A few days later, the line cook was out of a job and I was working the line full-time.”
Culinary style: “When it comes to cooking, I live by the KISS Rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I’m a firm believer that good ingredients and good food can stand on their own.”
The menu: “OTC is a 100% from scratch kitchen. We use the highest-quality ingredients and serve a modern twist on comfort food.”
The vibe: “It’s a fun, creative, social environment.”
Inspiration: “Other chefs, reading, and walking around farmers’ markets.”
Most memorable compliment: “I worked with my mentor for about 5 years. People used to tell us that watching us in the kitchen was like watching an orchestra or ballet.”
Favorite dish: “Our Pulled Pork Sliders are one of my favorite dishes. I love BBQ, it’s one of my passions.”
Favorite part of the job? “Working in an open kitchen. I love watching the reactions of people eating my food.”
Most challenging? “Managing people is always a challenge, as is keeping costs down when we use such high-quality ingredients.”
What’s in your fridge at home? “Orange juice, beer, champagne, water, bacon fat, butter, sriracha, NY bagels and dog treats.”
Goals for the future? “My main goal is to help open more OTC locations in the future and continue to lead kitchens.”

Rafael Van De Water
Perricone’s Marketplace & Cafe
15 SE 10th St.
Miami, FL

“I draw my inspiration from the joy I get out of having the ability to please someone through their palate.”

Education: Johnson & Wales
First kitchen experience: “Chopping a lot of parsley! I thought to myself: When do I actually get to cook something?…most chefs start as prep cooks…”
Culinary style: “I don’t stick to any one style of cooking. Here at Perricone’s, we do everything from basic Italian to Asian to Latin American.”
The menu: “Traditional Italian food…made with love like an Italian grandmother would. But our menu has other global influences and a nice selection of fresh fish.”
The vibe: “Very high-energy. We’re an active restaurant. There’s rarely a slow time as we always have various events happening on and off premise.”
Inspiration: “I draw my inspiration from the joy I get out of having the ability to please someone through their palate.”
Most memorable compliment: “Any time someone goes out of their way to let me know that they really enjoyed what I made, I feel like I’ve done well.”
Favorite dish: “The meat lasagna. It’s total comfort food; it just makes you feel good.”
Favorite part of the job? “I really enjoy educating the staff on food-related issues, especially when it comes to handling procedures and new trends in cuisine from around the world.”
Most challenging? “Balancing personal time and work. Chefs tend to work long hours and it’s difficult to spend time with loved ones.”
What’s in your fridge at home? “I always have cold cuts, as well as lots of cheeses. I’m a big sandwich guy. Of course a 6-pack of some kind of beer is in there also.”
Goals for the future? “To one day own my own restaurant on a tropical beach somewhere. Or maybe that’s more of a dream, but hey, I like to shoot for the stars!”