Pride Outside Campaign, Top Local Chefs and the Anticipation of my “Closed Doors” Dinner in Wynwood

Two days after my Conscious Bite Out dinner, I get the opportunity to give back. A great source throws me in the mix to participate in the “Get Out of the Kitchen” launch event for the Pride Outside Campaign. They aprideoutsidecroppedre set out to raise over a million dollars to build new playgrounds in Bal Harbour schools. The new St. Regis was the host of the event and I was among 16 other top chefs in Miami and Fort Lauderdale volunteering their time and food for a great cause. Jose Mendin chef of my favorite spots in Miami, the Pubbelly Group, Timon Ballo of another one of my go-to places Sugarcane, Giorgio Grapicavoli, Chopped winner and chef/owner of Eating House, Jeremy Ford from 3030 Ocean, who I know now, is practicing being self sustainable and growing his own produce in a greenhouse at his home in Fort Lauderdale, and many other local reputable top chefs dished out our best to this well dressed crowd.

(some more pictures from the event)

Each of us had our own station set in the ballroom with a table of 12 in front of us. We chose the menu and the décor for the table based on our restaurant. I obviously do not have a restaurant but Sacred Space Miami provided a beautiful set up to go along with the only plant based menu of the night.

We were allowed three courses without dessert. I start with an amuse bouche (single bite)

Kale Napoleon with Raw chocolate, Mamey and Pistachios. (Oh, this is a fancy event so I will use some fancy words. Once again, bridging the gap between tree hugging and the mainstream chef.)

Next is another variation of my Bee Pollen Salad- swiss chard, fennel, mango champagne coulis. 2013-05-02 20.52.06

Appetizer was Coconut Corn Cake-black bean puree, scallion-jalapeno salsa and turmeric paint.

Entrée was the best and here I did something a chef should never do. Rule of thumb: never do a dish for the first time when you are in front of a live audience. I tend to want to take this risk often and has yet to totally blow up in my face. Maybe a little splatter, but not totally. I do a pasta duo: Purple pappardelle with porcini cream and maitake mushrooms and a Whole Grain Risotto with Kale pesto and marinated red beets. It was the pappardelle that I had practiced just hours before and decided to put it on the menu. It paid off. The lighting in the room illuminated a florescent purple and my guests were left asking what it could possibly be if it wasn’t pasta.

I had some great help from my friend Misha, a fellow chef here in Miami and overall the night was a great success. My non-vegan guests were continually surprised at what was going on in their mouth after every bite. The questions poured in and gave me all the room to pass on the benefits of eating this way, even in such an upscale environment.

Putting this plant based lifestyle at the 2013-05-02 21.22.02foundation of my philosophy as a chef is a risky one and coming from my meat and potato-Bostonian heritage, it is more like frowned upon. Well, I have always been a bit of a risk taker and not afraid to stand behind something that does not get the majority rule. Sadly, in this case, it is more of a skewed perception and lack of education than a valid reason to not see the benefits of a plant based culinary foundation. In my opinion, this will be the future of all cuisine if we are to sustain this planet and increase the declining health of our population.

After the event, Executive Chef of the St. Regis, Tom Parlo, put out a spread in a few of their meeting rooms and invited us chefs back for a bite and a cold one. I got to meet some great chefs; some that I knew, some that I have wanted to meet. I spoke to some of them about getting together in the future as I plan a “closed doors dinner” at my new place in Wynwood. The minute I moved into this up and coming artsy neighborhood and saw the potential of the huge space I live in, I thought underground dinner club!! Showcase a local artist, maybe a guest chef once in a while, food you cannot find anywhere else. It’s just what we need here in Wynwood.
Stay tuned for more info on this small invite only dinner that I want to hold at least once a month.

That's one Tough Mudder Fu#$er! This is just around the end of mile 1. 

Shock therapy and double diamond peaks still to come.

My Journey to SoCal: 10 Miles of Tough Mudder and the L.A. Food Scene

There has always been a west coast/east coast beef whether it’s among rappers or rival sports teams. “Our loud, closed-minded edgy New England rapport is better than your hemp growing, generic tree hugger lifestyle!” Growing up, I was always flaunting how proud I was of my heritage and my Bostonian Scotch/Irish roots, and with that naïve pride, by default, was not receptive to any other culture.

Personally, I think placing stereotypes on anyone is just a cop out for shortsighted people. It is only from breaking free of the mindset I was brought up around that I have been able to grow and ultimately welcome life on life’s terms as it unfolds in its many forms.

Last week I went out to the west coast for the first time. I took on one of the biggest physical challenges of my life while there, Tough Mudder So Cal, a 10 mile military style obstacle course in Snow Valley Peak Ski Resort, Running Springs, CA. It was a friend of a friend that organized a team of 10 coming from as far as Australia., rightfully named East Coast Fury. Together we climbed up and down double diamond peaks, plunged into icy waters and ran and crawled through 10,000 volts of electric shock to the head and body for 5 straight hours while screaming “ECF! EAST COAST!”

I trained long and hard for this event running and doing Crossfit but my real reason for going out there was to scope out the food scene in and around Los Angeles that I have heard so much about. I stayed in downtown for just 3 short days but traveled through the burrows of L.A. to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

My first thought when I got to West Hollywood was, “damn this city is spread out and pretty dirty,” compared to my well kept little neighborhood on South Beach where I can bike everywhere I need to go. I guess I wanted to see an abundance of beautiful California produce lining the sidewalks while some free spirited, hallucinating hippies danced around chanting Greenpeace.

Luckily I was not swarmed with the smell of pot smoke, patchouli and dirty dread locks like I had expected but what I did find were concepts I have been envisioning, creating and sharing with clients and all of those around me. Healthy fast food everywhere! Freshii, Tender Greens, Greens Up and Real Food Daily are just a few chain restaurants I got to experience that are spread throughout L.A. County putting raw, organic, fresh nutrient dense foods conveniently at your fingertips.

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Jinky’s in Santa Monica, known for its breakfast and many chilis (6 different daily options) and also Caffe Primo in downtown had the whole grains, raw options and superfoods as, not just an afterthought, but a substantial part of their menus. Jinky’s served up a massive bowl of Kelp noodles, sprouts, greens, raw veggies and seared tuna for $14. I can hardly find kelp noodles, which are low calorie and packed with 70 minerals and 21 amino acids, at a one of the few raw vegan concepts in South Florida, never mind at just a regular cafe known for chili.

Primo’s also had a brown rice bowl full of raw veggies with your option of tofu, chicken or fish for $10-$12. Big portions of whole grains and vegetables, endless healthy options no matter where you go all well within reasonable prices sets L.A. aside from anywhere I have been here on the east coast.

My last night there, a friend brought us to Chateau Marmont, a historical landmark hotel with a small French restaurant next to, Bar Marmont. My friend was entertaining a few Columbian models he had met at the hotel so I figured I would take one for the team and eat some unhealthy calorie dense French food for one night. Well even here, at a see and be scene destination, I find kale, raw, in a salad along with lentils and brussel sprouts to remind me that I am still in California. Nutrient density at all levels of cuisine, not that hard is it.

This experience has motivated me even further to develop nutrient dense dishes, educate those around me on simplifying healthy cooking and conceptualize my “progressive modern” approach to the food scene here on the east coast. Without a doubt I thought about, still thinking about, moving to L.A. to surround myself with this progressive lifestyle but feel like the east coast can benefit from my “progressive modern” concept much more than the west coast.

I say, “Get Humble East Coast!” The way we are eating sucks and we need to open up to what California is doing. I am confident that it will only be a matter of time before areas on the east coast, especially South Florida, will have more convenient healthy options eliminating the need to grab the fast food crap so readily available that is detrimental to our health.

Breaking out the “Progressive Modern Chef” (Pro-mo)

I have honestly taken too much time deciding what my first ever blog should be and what will catch your attention and keep you reading. So I’m going to do what I’ve learned to do best. Keep it real. Before I go and share a message I am titling a “Progressive Modern Chef,” I will simply share my present day with you.
Let me fill you in on a little about me. Long story short, I have 8 years formal culinary education between high school and college and have worked in the industry since I was 13. From Boston Market in high school to 4 star hotels, I was a sucker for a position next to the “celebrity” chef in that award winning spot. I have also been the valet guy that you left my tip still lit in the ashtray of your Lexus for and the attentive waiter that served you that $120 plate and just spilled a round of Heinekens down that guy’s back. I plan to tell about that Beantown journey in future blogs but for now back to South Beach.
Currently I am a sous chef working in a newly named hotspot hotel on South Beach. Although this is a “4 star” hotel, the venue that I operate in is a make-shift kitchen under nothing more than a retractable tent. There is no gas, minimal electricity mainly from extension cords and some mats covering the deck under my feet. I have one microwave, one panini press and a 20”x14” griddle. My two cooks and I produce in excess of 20K a week in food from the now revamped scratch menu we mostly prepare 17 floors below. Without going into detail, if you’re in the business you may see the challenges we face.
I began working in my current position two weeks after moving here in 2009. After just 9 months with this growing F + B Company, I was hand-picked by the previous corporate chef to open what was at the time, the largest venue in the company. A month into this life sucking task, I was the last one standing next to him. The Chef de Cuisine he had hired who had brought our entire opening crew with him, walked out along with the one other sous chef a day apart. What do I do? I try to convince the big dog to give me the top spot of course. His plan instead, “Move to New York, not sure where yet but I need you there!” I refused the cold weather high-cost life I was brought up in without a significant pay raise.

Now, I am asked to come back to the hotel and bring some new blood to the hip party scene on the rooftop. The menu is thoughtless and sad. Two poorly executed sushi rolls, four senseless sandwiches with two on the same bread, a couple of salads and a short rib slider at outrageous prices. I first bring a positive energy to my cooks and the FOH and more-so the same consistency I brought to the recent venture. I create a workable space knowing I will be spending some time here. I replace the rusty home fridge we are using with a double door I find in the basement.
Being given free rein on this poolside bar menu I let my surroundings talk to me. First, take off the sushi that sits in the sun as you’re in the pool and I bring a Miami flare to comfort food. Mostly tourists…Miami Beach…Duh. House smoked pork slider, lime shrimp with habanero glaze, tuna tartar with mango, chili and scallion, Jamaican jerk chicken salad to name a few. Homemade honey roasted almond-peanut butter and strawberry jam on cranberry walnut bread is just me  sliding in a sweet option for the ecstasy popping kids at heart. This Miami flare seems to trickle down and soon all of the menus are fit for this location.


Without a smoker I convert a broken hot box with a Bunsen burner and a cast iron skillet. I smoke the pork butt for 8 hours before slow cooking it at 180 in an alto sham overnight. Top it with a citrus bbq sauce and brine my own pickles too. I am making that peanut butter little by little in a robot coupe and vita-mix as well as a pecan cherry brittle sprinkle over an arugula goat cheese salad. Dressings are made from fruit and wine reductions and I’ve convinced the a.m. baker to make focaccia for my prosciutto and vegetarian paninis.
My direct boss second guessed me and all of these labor inducing upgrades as many around also may have. Being able to measure your own work capacity with those next to you and the equipment, time and space to execute efficiently is a skill that should come naturally with hands-on (not paperwork-on) experience. The ability to train the staff around you is acquired, in my opinion, through humility and patience.
“Why would I bother and go so far out of my way with all of this scratch cooking if my direct boss doesn’t care either way or even give it any recognition?”
I am still a passionate chef at the core whether I’m suited in a well equipped kitchen or sweating in a t-shirt under a tent. I know no other way but to put my face behind the food I serve. I have been put in many challenging situations in life and have grown from all of them. It boils down to where my ego is and how I am living when I walk outside of that hotel that determines my state of being.
My intentions of, “The Progressive Modern Chef,” is to shed light on the lifestyle of chefs and restaurant workers and share a solution. My ideas on bringing the health of the guest into the thought of upscale service is a topic I feel strongly about and plan to express. Think nutrient dense sanity and spread the word.

Fun with Food