Hotel Chef Award: Kurtis Jantz
Neomi's at the Trump International Sonesta |
Kurtis Jantz has travelled the globe, and doesn’t hesitate
to put the flavors of his experiences on the plate at Neomi’s
at the Trump International Sonesta Hotel in Miami. Jantz was
born in Japan, lived in Germany, and attended culinary school in
Johnson County, Kansas. After school he worked in a local restaurant
specializing in game, where he had the opportunity to work with
exotic meats from around the world. Soon after, Jantz resumed globe-hopping,
backpacking around Europe, staging and working in Switzerland, working
in Antilles in the Caribbean and finally at the Royal Sonesta in
Jantz was named executive chef of the Trump International Sonesta Miami in 2003; Jantz is in charge of the property’s restaurant, beach and pool service, in-room dining, catering, and two lounges, and he brings to this task an incredible level of creativity and, notably, dedication to the newest culinary techniques. He is an avid reader and experimenter, and his menu is a composite of his travels, his technical experiments (drawn from el Bulli, Pierre Gagnaire, Joël Robuchon, and the like), and his ventures in ethnic cuisine (the current focus is Peruvian).
Jantz’s TW-7 Salmon is a perfect example of his approach – salmon is brined in a rich Central and East Asian-inspired spice liquid with Szechuan peppercorns, cloves, coriander, cumin, anise, and ginger, then delicately cooked sous vide. It’s plated atop pieces of onigiri, a Japanese sushi roll with asparagus and egg, and finished at the table with aromatic dashi and compressed pea tendrils (a la Joël Robuchon). Dashi mingles with fermented soy powder, making for an engaging, creative dining experience.
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WB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
KJ: I worked in the Caribbean, which was a big stepping stone for me because it opened my eyes to new cultures. Around 1995 I sold everything and went backpacking in Europe. I worked in Switzerland in small chateaus – not Michelin Star places. From 1997-2003, I worked at the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans. That experience taught me ways to try to make New Orleans food outside of Cajun/Creole.
WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
KJ: I went to a small culinary
school in Kansas City – not CIA, but in exchange, I got more
attention from my instructors. Culinary schools need to work better
to prepare to work hard and be patient so they can avoid false expectations.
WB: Who are some of your mentors?
KJ: Richard Thompson at The Admirals Club in DC, and David Cross in Northern Virginia. We worked together in Kansas City.
WB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
KJ: Where is your passion for the industry? Are you in it for the long haul? Can you cook an egg?
WB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KJ: Have humility and patience. Read as much as possible and soak things up.
WB: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized? Why?
KJ: Celery – it’s versatile and underappreciated. I like to approach it a la Paco Torreblanca, both as a mirepoix base and as a featured ingredient.
WB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
KJ: The internet – for
the knowledge and the amount of possibility. And then after that
it’s my Shun utility knife, spice grinder, vita-mix, and immersion
circulator; the list goes on.
WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KJ: The el Bulli series is invaluable. And Pierre Gagnaire’s book, Reflections on Culinary Artistry, blew me away. It’s ingenious. The newest books I am studying are Peru Mucho Gusto (the best book on Peruvian cuisine to date), and Pierre Gagnaire Reinventing French Cuisine.
WB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
KJ: I would like to go back
to Japan, where I was born, to learn more culinary traditions, like
WB: What are your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in your city?
KJ: Yakko-San and
WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
KJ: With the Trump environment it’s about taking something and giving it a twist, doing it really well, and providing added value.
WB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
KJ: There is an ever-increasing knowledge of how to use ingredients. There’s also a drive to improve dishes, often through science and new ingredients, [which is great] so long as there’s an understanding of how [the products should be] used scientifically.
WB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve? Who would you most like to cook for you?
KJ: I’d like to serve Robert Plant or Jimmy Page a really cool dish of vegetables. I’d love for Marcus Samuelsson or Pierre Gagnaire to cook for me.
WB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
KJ: I’m very liberal about doing as many charity events as possible. I’m involved with March of Dimes, and I love to network with other chefs – at the International Chefs Congress, for example.
WB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KJ: That’s easy! I’d be some kind of musician – rock, most likely.
WB: What does success mean for you?
KJ: I feel like I’m already really successful. I like to come to work every day. I’m happy when I come home.
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