21 Almeria Avenue
Coral Gables, FL

Biography »

Joy Johnson: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Jeffrey Brana: I originally started to work in a restaurant to make money as a server. When the slow season arrived, I went into the back of the house. I ended up enjoying cooking more than going to school. My grandmother also influenced me. She is a phenomenal cook. I am lucky enough to have been raised in an era in which people sat down to dinner to have a family meal.

JJ: Did you attend culinary school? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
JB: No, I attended the University of Florida. I don’t think culinary school is required, but I suggest it. I think a combination of school and hands-on experience is the key. I recommend a stagière as well.

JJ: In addition to Norman Van Aken, you’ve also worked with Scott Howard (who had previously worked with Norman). Would you say that these two chefs are your greatest influences, or are there others who have strongly influenced you?
JB: Marty Blitz at Mise en Place gave me my first job. My mentor would be Scott Howard from Fork in Tampa. He showed me all of the intangibles- how to hold a knife, how to skim stock, etc. I respected him then, and I respect what he does now.

JJ: Are there any secret ingredients or specialty purveyors that you especially like? Why?
JB: I like to use violet mustard and Japanese chili paste. We use a purveyor in Homestead called Tropical Delights Organic Farm. We have a longstanding relationship, and I visit
the farm seasonally. I can get locally grown sustainable agriculture such as specialty fruits, greens, and herbs unique to South Florida.

JJ: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JB: Chopsticks. They enable you to handle food delicately. I use them for all stages, from preparing to plating food.

JJ: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
JB: What are you reading right now? This gives me a sense of where they stand in cuisine. Even if it is not as advanced, it’s okay. I can tell a lot about them by asking this.

JJ: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JB: Remind yourself everyday to strive for excellence in every endeavor. This philosophy follows you into the kitchen, where your personal life follows as well.

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NORMAN'S | Coral Gables, FL

Norman Van Aken says being a chef isn’t a profession you choose; it chooses you. Rising Star Jeffrey Brana was not only chosen by the culinary profession, but also by Florida’s reigning celebrity chef. Brana mastered every station in the kitchen at Norman’s, South Florida’s premiere fine dining venue in Coral Gables. He then ventured off to St. Thomas and San Francisco, eventually finding his way back to Van Aken’s award-winning kitchen, where he executes nightly the New World Cuisine made famous by his mentor.

Foie Gras Croqueta with Creamed Sweet Corn, Dandelion Greens and Huckleberries

Chef Jeffrey Brana of NORMAN’S – Coral Gables, FL
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 8 Servings


    Foie gras:
  • 1 lobe Grade A foie gras
  • Milk, for soaking
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 375 milliliters (about 1 ½ cups) orange Muscat wine
  • 6 cups duck stock
  • 3 cups panko breadcrumbs, ground
  • All-purpose flour and egg wash, for breading
  • 1 gallon canola oil
    Creamed corn and dandelions:
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (if necessary)
  • 4 bunches tiny dandelion greens (no larger than 5 inches), washed
  • 4 ounces fresh huckleberries
  • 1 Tablespoon Maldon salt
For foie gras:
Soak foie gras in milk overnight, changing the milk several times. The following day, remove lobe from milk, rinse and pat dry. Allow the foie gras to temper at room temperature until soft. With a knife, “butterfly” open the foie, and remove all of the veins.

Mix together the salt and sugar, and season the foie. Drizzle with 100 milliliters of the Muscat (about ½ cup), reserving the remaining wine for poaching. Cover and allow to cure overnight.

The following day, use parchment paper to form the foie gras into a long cylinder approximately 2 ½ inches thick. Lay out a large square of cheesecloth, double it onto itself and roll the foie gras, twisting both ends of the cloth, and securing each end with kitchen twine.

Heat the remaining wine with the duck stock in a pot large enough to hold the foie gras. Bring to a simmer, and poach the foie gras for 2 minutes. Remove, and place in an ice water bath. When cool, wrap in a towel or linen, and twist the ends in order to return the foie to its original width.

Tie off the ends of the towel and hang the cooked foie gras from one end in a cooler until firm. When firm, remove foie from the towel and cheesecloth, and slice with a hot knife into 1-inch discs. Place in the freezer briefly to ensure that the foie is as firm as possible after slicing, but do not let it freeze.

Bread the pieces of foie in the flour, egg wash and ground panko. Repeat this process again for each piece, thus giving the foie a bit more protection from the heat when cooked. Return to a cooler, and keep as cold as possible.

Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until it reads 375°F on a thermometer. Just before service, flash-fry the foie gras croquetas for 8 seconds. This will allow the breading to turn a golden brown, with a molten layer just inside and a cool center.

For creamed corn:
Cut the kernels from two ears of corn, scraping the “milk” with the back of a knife. With a box grater, grate the remaining ears of corn, being careful not to pass into the cob. Over low heat, melt the butter in a saucepan, and add the kernels and grated corn. Cook over low heat for approximately 45 minutes, or until no starch can be tasted in the corn. If the corn is not as sweet as desired, add sugar to taste. The corn can be chilled and reheated later for service, or it can be held warm for a brief period. When ready to plate, fold in the dandelion greens until they are slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve:
Spoon the corn and dandelion greens in the center of each plate. Place one croqueta on top of the corn. Top each plate with 1 Tablespoon of huckleberries and a few grains of Maldon salt. Serve immediately.

Interview Cont'd

JJ: What are your favorite cookbooks?
JB: Pellegrino Artusi- The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well (La scienza in Cucina el' arte di Mangiar bene). It was published in 1891 and covers a broad scope of Italian cuisine. Artusi’s wit, his anecdotes on history and his two cents make it an interesting book.

JJ: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
JB: I like the San Francisco Bay area. Overseas is great too, but the west coast is unbelievable. There is a great attitude, concentrating on the basics of food and wine, including a wonderful diversity.

JJ: What are your favorite restaurants in Miami?
JB: Grazianos, an Argentinean steakhouse.

JJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
JB: I see myself owning my own restaurant in the country. I want the ability to be at peace and let the restaurant speak for itself.

   Published: October 2004