Culinary dream team makes magic at Miami’s best restaurants

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These five Miami restaurant all-stars — a chef, pastry chef, general manager, sommelier and hostess — are the ones we’d want to lead our fantasy Café INDULGE. Get a glimpse inside their creative minds. 

Jeremy Ford

He made Miami proud by being the city’s first Top Chef winner. Now we’re rooting for this martial arts-practicing single dad to lift Miami’s dining reputation to new heights.

Miami restaurant
‘You have to master the basics before you can even think about trying new, innovative techniques,’ says Miami chef Jeremy Ford. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

CURRENT JOB Executive Chef at Stubborn Seed, a Grove Bay Hospitality Group restaurant in South Beach. 

YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY 15. “My first job was garde manger at Matthew’s, a four-diamond restaurant in my hometown of Jacksonville. I was 16.”

IF I DIDN’T WORK IN RESTAURANTS… “I would probably be an architect like my dad. I always found that to be interesting and creative.”

MY TYPICAL DAY “I get my daughter, Maddy, ready for school and drop her off. I try to squeeze in a jiu-jitsu class if I’m lucky. Then I’ll reply to as many emails as I possibly can. I’m notorious for doing this on my phone instead of a computer, which would probably be easier.

“When I was at Matador Room at the Miami Beach Edition, I would head to the restaurant to check on prep and deliveries that had come in to ensure they are up to our standards. I might be working on a dish to serve or demo at an upcoming event, or maybe I’m playing around with some new seasonal recipes to put on our menu.

“I jump out to pick up my daughter from school and get her settled at home. On Mondays when I’m off, we have lunch together.

“Then I’m back at the restaurant, running down the evening gameplan with the staff, looking at the reservations for VIPs and names I recognize. Next thing, it’s go time. After service, which is anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m., I usually go straight home. It all starts again at 6:30 a.m.”

A CHEF’S MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED TOOL “A microplane grater.”

WHO TAUGHT ME TO COOK “Matthew Medure of Matthew’s in Jacksonville. And Gregory Brainin, Jean-Georges’ director of culinary development. He’s the best chef I ever worked for. He taught me how to control what I put on a plate.”

ITALIAN BY BIRTH “My mother was adopted. When I was younger, we found her biological family, and they were all Italian — and amazing cooks. It suddenly all made sense: I had found the root of my addiction to cooking. The first day we met them in California, they taught me how to make pasta with meat filling.”

WORD ASSOCIATION! THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND…

Yelp: “Oh gosh…”

Food Critic: “Focus, team. We got this.”

Most Delicious Thing Ever: “Dinner at Jean-Georges in NYC.”

VIP at Table 10: “Touch the table and smile. Also: Everyone’s a VIP.”

THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF MY JOB “The business side. I love to cook, but there are so many more responsibilities that come with running a kitchen.” 

FAVORITE INGREDIENT TO COOK “Fish.” 

HOW MIAMI STACKS UP TO OTHER FOOD CITIES “I’ve gotten to travel a ton this year and see some amazing cultures and taste incredible food. I can say Miami is definitely on its way to being one of the world’s best cities for food.”

WHAT’S NEXT? “Let’s just say there will be a lot more fish in my future.” 

POST-SHIFT HANGOUT The Anderson. I’ll have whatever they want to make with gin.”

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT RESTAURANT LIFE “It isn’t as glamorous as it looks. Being successful in this career is all about having patience.”

ONE MORE THING “I can’t say thank you enough to all of the supporters I have had from this glorious city. I’m truly proud of this amazing place. 305 for life!” 

Stubborn Seed, 101 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach; stubbornseed.com

Anna Bélla Moïse

Area 31
Anna Bélla Moïse of Area 31 restaurant in Miami wears an Alexis “Kourtney” Long-Sleeve Romper in ash pink. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

Insider advice from the first person you’ll interact with at a restaurant: Stop asking to change tables — and start tipping hostesses.

CURRENT JOB Host Supervisor at Area 31 Restaurant in Brickell.

YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY 12.

IF I DIDN’T WORK IN RESTAURANTS… “I would definitely be an accountant.”

MY TYPICAL DAY “I have to have coffee. That is a must. I walk out in the yard for 5 minutes, phone in hand, and see what I have going on for the day.

“I start work at 3 p.m. First thing, I go to Open Table and see how many reservations we have for the night. I go through each one, noting any special requests or allergies in the guest notes. If we have a marriage proposal or two for the night, some guests send flowers for us to arrange on the table. We do our best to make it an all-out experience they will never forget.

“I’ll print out the special requests and make the kitchen aware of them, and we print special menus for those with sensitive palates. Then I make the floor plan for the servers, dividing sections evenly among the most skilled servers and those who are still learning. During pre-shift, everyone is made aware of what to expect and what is expected of them, and we get ready to rumble.

“I normally leave work around 11. I’ll either meet up with friends for a late dinner, or if I’m really tired I’ll head home and pour myself a glass of red wine. And look forward to doing it all again the next day.”

MOST TRUSTWORTHY TOOL ON THE JOB “My smile — and my positive attitude.”

FAVORITE DISH AT AREA 31 “A tie: Cobia Tataki and Braised Lamb.”

SHOULD WE BE TIPPING HOSTESSES? “Absolutely! Especially if someone has gone above and beyond for the guest. A good example would be a proposal or reserving a favorite table. Always tip on the way out. It shows your appreciation and how much you enjoyed your experience.”

THE LAST REALLY BAD CUSTOMER I HAD “It was very frustrating. I had a guest who asked to be moved to at least five different tables. I did it all with a smile, and I made a point to say, ‘No matter where you sit, the food will taste just as good!’ There is not one bad seat at Area 31.”

MOST REWARDING PART OF MY JOB “I meet all sorts of characters. It never gets boring!”

IT’S 8 P.M. ON A SATURDAY, AND SOMEONE CALLS BEGGING FOR A TABLE FOR SIX “That can be tricky, but I will always do my best to accommodate. There might be a bit of a wait, but I’ll take care of them.”

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT RESTAURANT LIFE “The daily demands and fast-paced energy of a restaurant are tough, but they make you a better, more understanding individual. Sometimes the rewards outweigh the demands.”

Area 31 at the Kimpton Epic Hotel, 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami; 305-424-5234; area31restaurant.com.

Ross Evans

Hollywood Fl Restaurant
Ross Evans says chocolate is the most versatile ingredient he works with. But at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, he explores beyond cacao to build Japanese flavors and textures. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

CURRENT JOB Executive Pastry Chef at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY 8.

IF I DIDN’T WORK IN RESTAURANTS… “I would probably be in the ocean. I was a marine biology major at University of South Florida before I switched to culinary school.”

MY TYPICAL DAY “At 9 a.m. I feed the animals. I’ve got Marley, a pixie-bob cat who is 6. And Holly, an American bulldog. She’s 8 and she’s a sleeper.

“By noon I’d be at work at Kuro and making coffee. I’ll look over the day’s prep and place food orders for the next day from our purveyors. I’ll prep that night’s desserts until about 4:30. We’ll check everyone’s stations, and I try to remember to take five minutes to eat something.

“Service starts at 5:30. Through service we’re coming up with new dishes for omakase tasting menus, we’re developing menus, and we’re testing new techniques and recipes. By 11 p.m. service is wrapping up, and we’ll break down and clean our stations. At 12:30 a.m. I clock out the line cooks. At 1 a.m., I send a nightly recap email, drive home and do it again the next day.”

THE MOMENT I KNEW I WANTED TO BE A PASTRY CHEF “My winter break from USF in 2008. I drove back home to High Springs, and when I walked in the door, my mom was pulling a pumpkin cheesecake out of the oven. She asked me to help her unmold the cheesecake, and I cracked it. I made her a promise that it would never happen again. And here I am.”

GO-TO DRINK? “An Arnold Palmer with fresh-squeezed lemons. That’s what I drink during and after work. After being on your feet all day, nothing feels better than rehydrating with iced tea and lemonade.”

ON GLUTEN-FREE, NUT ALLERGIES AND OTHER DIETARY RESTRICTIONS “Things like that make me more aware as a pastry chef and cause me to really look at how I compose dishes. I have to make sure we have desserts that are approachable and safe for anybody. Being aware of such restrictions pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to be more creative.”

I JUDGE WHETHER IT’S BEEN A GOOD DAY BASED ON… “The mood of Marley and Holly when I get home. They’re always happy to see me — so every day is a good day.”

FAVORITE INGREDIENT TO COOK WITH “Chocolate. Endless possibilities. I can create anything with chocolate — cake, mousse, custard, bon bon, showpieces and more. Chocolate is one of the most versatile ingredients out there.”

BUT JAPANESE DESSERTS — NOT SO CHOCOLATEY “Before opening Kuro, I had no experience with Japanese cuisine. I threw my knowledge of traditional desserts out the window, and I started learning the flavor profiles and textures upon which Japanese desserts are built. I have taken the techniques and methods learned over my years in the industry, and I’m using Japanese ingredients to see how far we can push the limits of new-style Japanese cuisine.”

FAVORITE DISH AT KURO “Our black-sesame panna cotta: Kuro Goma Panna Cotta. That was an original from Kuro’s menu-development stages, and I haven’t been able to let go of it.”

dessert
Goma Panna Cotta at Kuro. Photograph by Michael Pisarri.

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT RESTAURANT LIFE “The hours. Most people don’t get the amount of time that goes into running a successful restaurant. Doing things right takes time, and there are not many people that can grasp the concept of working 60-70 hours a week with food.”

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, One Seminole Way, Hollywood; 954-327-7625; seminolehardrockhollywood.com.

Amanda Fraga

Miami restaurant
Amanda Fraga of The Genuine Hospitality Group wears a Victoria Beckham Short-Sleeve Cutout Midi Dress in navy. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

She’s a super sommelier who is as comfortable with wine, cocktail and beer pairings as she is around chef Michael Schwartz’s discerning clientele.

CURRENT JOB Beverage Manager for The Genuine Hospitality Group, Michael Schwartz’s restaurant and events company.

YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY 8.

IF I DIDN’T WORK IN RESTAURANTS… “I would be a teacher.”

MY TYPICAL DAY “At 10 a.m. I panic about being late for work. Grab an oatmeal and yogurt and run out of the house. At Michael’s Genuine, I get a quick coffee and eat my oatmeal and yogurt at the bar.

“I usually walk between the restaurants throughout the day — they are all less than five minutes away from each other. By 2 p.m. I’m sweating and running into the wine room at Michael’s Genuine to cool off.

“At 5 p.m., it’s dinner pre-shift, and I try to have something prepared for the servers — a quiz, a cool food/wine pairing, or even a blind tasting, where we discuss what they think something is, and then reveal it.

“By 8 p.m. I’m just doing circles around Michael’s Genuine, helping guests with their wine selection. At 10ish, I rush home to try to see my boyfriend before he falls asleep.”

MOST EXPENSIVE BOTTLE I EVER OPENED “Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2004. It was for a hotel guest, when I worked at the Setai. He and his son drank less than half the bottle and gave the rest to the staff. Best. Night. Ever.”

BEFORE THE GENUINE HOSPITALITY GROUP “I studied hospitality at Florida International University, and I realized if I wanted to be in the industry, I needed some experience. I worked at a sports bar between school and home. It taught me how to work fast and efficiently.

“Then I worked as a harvest intern at Domaine de Bellene, a winery in Burgundy. I did everything from harvesting to crushing grapes to working the bottling line. It was an experience that I think about every day. It changed my understanding about what goes into making a bottle of wine.”   

THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF MY JOB “All the little cuts I get on my index finger from stubborn wine cap foil.”

HOW TO TASTE WINE THE RIGHT WAY “I strongly believe that the best way to judge a wine is by tasting twice when it’s presented to you. The first taste usually shocks your palate. The second taste really shows a wine’s true colors.”

PICK ONE: WINE FROM CALIFORNIA OR FRANCE “It’s hard to compare. France has many different varietals and regions. So, for variation, definitely France.”

FAVORITE DISH AT FI’LIA — AND A WINE, COCKTAIL AND BEER TO PAIR WITH IT “Beef Carpaccio with sunchoke, green onion and mustard vinaigrette is a great way to start your meal.

“For a cocktail pairing, Fi’lia’s Parched drink is a refreshing choice. Ingredients include Effen cucumber vodka and parsley, which go well with the sunchokes in the dish. Try a richer white wine with weight, like the Tocai from Clendenen Family Vineyards. For beer, go with La Menabrea, a blonde Italian craft lager. It’s perfectly fresh and crisp.” 

Miami restaurant
Beef carpaccio at Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz. Photography courtesy The Genuine Hospitality Group.

GO-TO DRINK “After a long shift, I love going to J. Wakefield Brewing in Wynwood. The beers are always interesting, and the staff is nice and attentive, with a cool vibe.”

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT RESTAURANT LIFE “It’s nonstop. All day and into the night. I love it. I love working nights and weekends and being off on Mondays. Everyone else is at work, and the city almost feels peaceful.”

ONE MORE THING “Say what’s up on Instagram: @quepasamanda.” 

The Genuine Hospitality Group: Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Cypress Tavern, Harry’s Pizzeria, Ella, 150 Central Park, Michael’s Genuine Pub; thegenuinekitchen.com.

Mary Zayaruzny

South Beach restaurant
Mary Zayaruzny of Upland restaurant in South Beach wears a Milly Half-Sleeve V-Neck Fit-and-Flare Dress in fuchsia. Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE.

A veteran of the NYC restaurant scene who dreams of Broadway, she directs beautiful performances daily at Stephen Starr’s South of Fifth hotspot.

CURRENT JOB General Manager at Upland Restaurant in Miami Beach.

YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY 14.

IF I DIDN’T WORK IN RESTAURANTS… “I would be a Broadway star!”

MY TYPICAL DAY “I always start with coffee and usually drop off some dry cleaning. I may pop by MAC to get lipstick — Russian Red is the only shade I use (I was born in the Ukraine, and my family came to Connecticut in 1991).

“Once I arrive at work, I check in with chef Justin Smillie and my management team to assess our needs for the day. This includes crosschecking our systems and making sure the financial health of the business is in a good place. I then make sure everyone and everything is set up for a successful service.

“Being in a new restaurant with an ever-evolving menu, I work closely with the kitchen team to make sure the menu is up to date and fresh. My day always includes tasting dishes to ensure consistency.

When service starts, I’m all eyes and ears, and guests immediately become our first priority as the doors open. The rest of the day is committed to providing perfect dining experiences, making regulars and making friends. My day may end with a slightly dirty martini.”

IS THE CUSTOMER ALWAYS RIGHT? “We don’t have customers — we have guests. And: absolutely!”

MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF A RESTAURANT JOB “Maintaining a work-life balance.” 

MOST REWARDING PART OF A RESTAURANT JOB “Putting on the perfect show.”

WORD ASSOCIATION! THE FIRST THING THAT COMES TO MIND…

Yelp: “Area of opportunity.”

Food Critic: “Anticipation.”

Most Delicious Thing Ever: “Fresh from the farm.”

VIP at Table 10: “VIP at every table!”

FAVORITE DISH AT UPLAND “It changes all the time, but I love the Coal Roasted Salmon. Crispy skin on the outside, perfect medium inside, with fresh grapefruit and garden elements. It shows Chef’s incredible skill and passion. Killer dish.”

AND FOR THAT POST-SHIFT MARTINI? “I go to my buddy John Lermayer’s fantastic bar, Sweet Liberty.”

ON TURNING BAD EXPERIENCES INTO GOOD ONES “It’s really important to win over irate guests and tough critics. You never know what’s behind someone’s bad mood — and often it’s an outside influence, not the restaurant. The last guest experience I had that started shaky ended up with that person being one of our best, most regular guests.”

TWO THINGS ANYONE CAN DO TO GET BETTER TREATMENT AT A RESTAURANT “Be kind. Respect the staff.”

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT RESTAURANT LIFE “There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The number of people, the level of skill and the amount of time management that go into creating a perfect guest experience. Things only go as they should if all of these elements fall into place in synchronicity.”

Upland, 49 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-602-9998; uplandmiami.com.

SHOT ON LOCATION AT SOYKA RESTAURANT IN MIAMI / HAIR, MAKEUP AND GROOMING: RORY LEE AND KARIN VARGAS FOR MAKEUP BY RORY / SET STYLING: KARLA BARTOLONE / ART DIRECTION AND DESIGN: J.M. COTO / WOMEN’S WARDROBES COURTESY OF NEIMAN MARCUS AT MERRICK PARK

Miami restaurant
Photograph by Felipe Cuevas for INDULGE

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