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2008 South Florida Rising Stars:
What Makes Them Shine
by StarChefs Editors
February 2008

StarChefs.com 2008 South Florida Rising Stars on StarChefs.com

Click here for more information about the South Florida Revue on March 3 at Trump International Club House West Palm Beach

Long known best for its beaches and nightlife, South Florida is today a budding culinary scene. Instead of covering one culinary destination in our search for our Rising Stars, we visited seven, tasting with chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists and sommeliers from Palm Beach to Boca Raton and down to the Keys. Below are the brightest and best; they have serious experience under their belts, strong personal styles, and palpable ambition. They are the vanguard of South Florida dining: the 2008 South Florida Rising Stars.

ZachBell, Café Boulud
CHEF: ZachBell, Café Boulud

Zach Bell worked his way up through Daniel Boulud’s kitchens, from saucier and sous chef (in New York) to chef de cuisine in Palm Beach. Bell’s cuisine is undeniably shaped by Daniel — it’s mature and restrained, with a pervading Mediterranean character and multiple components woven together dexterously on the plate. Bell executes his dishes with a light touch: sea bass is in a delicate basil–scented nage topped with aioli, fried white anchovies, and a tomato–nicoise olive mixture straight from Provence. Pompano “en croute” is not wrapped in dough but playfully topped with a thin slice of bread before being seared; the golden crust lends a flavorful and fun textured element to the dish.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Florida Pompano En Croute with Smoked Eggplant Puree, Fennel, Tomato Confit, Meyer Lemon, Sauce Vierge
Barramundi, Artichoke–New Potato–Basil Nage, Provençal Condiment, Fried Anchovy, Lemon Aioli

CHEF: Michael Bloise, Wish

Michael Bloise of Wish on StarChefs.com WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
We knew Michael Bloise was one to watch when we first tasted his food two years ago; when we caught up with him this year, he proved our hunch. Bloise’s recent travels through Vietnam and Italy taught him, among other things, to refine his flavor combinations, letting each ingredient on the plate stand out. This is not to say they’ve been completely simplified; on many levels his dishes are more daring than ever. In one particularly playful dish, foie gras is topped with a black pepper marshmallow that’s torched to create a warm, chewy, peppery foam, Cascabel chile–spiced bananas add more sweetness and heat, and arugula, radish, daikon salad adds freshness and a bit more bite. These bold and varied flavors are risky — and they come together beautifully at the end.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
Pan–Seared Rougie Foie Gras with Cascabel, Roasted Banana, Basil, Baby Arugula, Daikon Radish, and Black Pepper Marshmallow
– Barbequed Beef Short Rib with Sushi Rice, Cilantro, Baby Carrots, and Guava Glaze

Alberto Cabrera on StarChefs.com
CHEF: Alberto Cabrera, formerly of
Karu and Y

Alberto Cabrera’s King Crab Salad is exciting on paper, and it’s even more stunning on the plate: a perfect rectangle of crab rests on a vibrant strip of cherry gelee, topped with an abstract wave of orange paper, with a pile of cream cheese “dipping dots” frozen with liquid nitrogen on the side. His dishes are marked by exciting contrasts in temperature and texture, and bold, deftly executed flavor combinations. Cabrera’s technical mastery comes from his background with chefs Robin Haas, Norman Van Aken, and Angel Palacios (of the sadly short–lived Miami outpost of Sergi Arola’s Madrid restaurant, La Broche). Karu and Y recently closed, but we have high expectations for the future of this sophisticated, self–assured, talented young chef.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– King Crab Salad with Morello Cherry, Fennel, Orange Paper, and Cream Cheese Dipping Dots
– Boquerones en Escabeche with Heirloom Tomato Tartare, Black Olive Bread Sorbet, Basil Leaves, and Olive Oil Powder

CHEF: Clay Conley, Azul

Clay Conley, Azul on StarChefs.com WHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
At Azul, Clay Conley deftly spans the globe with flavors from India, Morocco, Italy, and Japan, to name a few. This could be an identity crisis in the making for a less sturdy, less experienced hand, but Conley wields his flavors and influences well. And it’s no wonder — he spent 10 years working for Todd English in his restaurants in Las Vegas and Tokyo, ultimately becoming culinary director for the group. Conley draws culinary influences from his surroundings (an Indian exchange student living with him inspired his yogurt–marinated swordfish), and nearly every dish has a story behind it. His orchiette nero with conch is a clever and delicious take on orchiette and sausage. The tomatoes and sausage are still there, but the traditional dish is given a touch of the Caribbean and of the sea with tender, flavorful conch and ink–colored orchiette.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
Moroccan Inspired Lamb: Harissa Marinated Loin, Shank Bastilla, Raita, Grilled Chop, Pepper Salad
– Orchiette Nero: Turks and Caicos Conch, Hot Italian Sausage, Native Basil, Roasted Tomato

hristopher Eagle, Cielo on StarChefs.com
CHEF: Christopher Eagle, Cielo

Christopher Eagle executes his dishes with an elegant touch; his food isn’t complicated (in that it’s never convoluted or overwhelming), and his sophisticated dishes are indicative of a high level of refinement. Eagle learned restraint and respect for ingredients from his mentor Troy Thompson, and Thompson’s experience with Japanese cuisine shines through in the refreshing simplicity and elegance of Eagle’s cuisine. His plating is clean and nearly minimalist, letting each component in a dish stand out both visually and flavor–wise. Peekytoe crab cannelloni is wrapped in thin sheets of fresh pear, a lovely and light alternative to pasta that fits perfectly with the sweet, delicate crab (and the balmy Boca Raton weather).

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Foie Gras Torchon with Quince and Spiced Plum
Peekytoe Crab Cannelloni with Pear, Basil and Lemon

CHEF: Jeff McInnis, DiLido Beach Club

Jeff McInnis, DiLido Beach Club on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
Jeff McInnis is a charismatic and charming chef whose Mediterranean dishes are thoughtfully and beautifully executed. His cuisine is light and healthful, a great match for his outdoor, beach–side dining room: yogurt sorbet melts into a dressing for a salad of melons, cucumber, lemon, and mint, and his falafel is light and airy. McInnis began peeling shrimp on Florida docks at 14, and has been in the restaurant world ever since. He’s found a good fit with DiLido, at the Ritz Carlton South Beach — he was recently sent (by The Ritz) to Morocco to research dishes for his menu, which is filled with creatively spiced and flavored dishes that are exactly what you want to eat on the beach.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Melons and Cucumber with Lemon, Mint, and Yogurt Sorbet
Lemon and Apricot Roasted Chicken, Sardinian Couscous “Risotto,” Pistachio, Manchego, Arugula

CHEF: David Mullen, Angle

David Mullen, Angle on StarChefs.comWHAT MAKES THIS RISING STAR SHINE:
David Mullen’s exquisite dishes come from a serious culinary pedigree — Mullen has worked with Julian Serrano, Laurent Gras, Daniel Boulud, and Wylie Dufresne, who taught him about new techniques and experimentation — that sometimes you have to attempt the unexpected to achieve something special. Mullen’s cuisine is creative and seamlessly executed; his dishes feature exciting techniques, but as a chef he’s rooted in the basics. His sauces and broths are deeply flavored, rich and impressively delicate, just as they should be. His hamachi dish is crisp, clean and fresh, with fun ingredients and textures: delicate apple gelee, fresh, crunchy jicama, and an airy, crunchy, homemade jasmine rice cracker.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Barramundi with Wild Forest Morels, English Peas, Ramps and Madeira Jus
Hamachi with Apple Gelee, Jicama and Coriander Rice Cracker

HOTEL CHEF: Kurtis Jantz, Naomi’sat the Trump International Sonesta

Kurtis Jantz is a hotel chef extraordinaire, managing 25,000 square feet of event space and a massive banquet business while also running a fine dining restaurant that turns out high–level, creative, technique–driven cuisine. He incorporates techniques learned from chefs around the world — compressed pea shoots a la Joël Robuchon, for example — and his kitchen is a hotbed of experimentation and learning. Jantz was born in Japan and worked in the Caribbean, and this fusion of backgrounds and influences is apparent in his menu, which draws from a global range of flavors without ever feeling disparate. Hotel dining is changing, and with his experimental, refined dishes and strong leadership (he created a “Jr. Sous Chef” program), Jantz is at the vanguard of the hotel world, operating at the highest level.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Mulled Pork Belly with Calabaza, Maple Powdered Cracklins, Pumpkin Pickles, 2–hour Eggnog
Tw–7 Salmon with Seared Onigiri, Fermented Soy, Enoki, Dashi, Compressed Pea Tendrils

Joel Lahon, Nobu

PASTRY CHEF: Joel Lahon, Nobu


Sophisticated flavors, advanced techniques and elegant presentations — it’s safe to say that Joel Lahon is one of the most compelling and creative pastry chefs in his market. Lahon worked for Marco Pierre White before joining Nobu 8 years ago; today he is involved in opening new Nobu outposts, and we certainly hope that the pastry chefs he trains take a page from his book. He’s a perfect finish to the savory side, combining Japanese and Latin ingredients (like yuzu and guanabana) in desserts with exciting, well–integrated flavor combinations. Coconut tapioca with lemongrass, kaffir lime and red Thai tea is light and dreamy, with exotic but accessible flavors. Mango carpaccio with chocolate, yuzu, grapefruit, and raspberry is a light, bright dish whose colors jump off the plate, and whose flavors come together harmoniously.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
– Thai Jewels: Coconut Tapioca, Thai Tea Foam, Lemongrass Ice Cream, Kaffir Lime Emulsion
Carpaccio: Fresh Mango, Chocolate Caviar, Yuzu Cake, Fresh Grapefruit, Raspberry Foam

PASTRY CHEF: Malka Espinel, Johnny V’s

Malka Espinel’s desserts are bold–flavored, tasty and hearty. It’s eye–catching, distinctly American pastry with an old–school feel — the kind that makes you want to grab a spoon and dig in. It’s also exactly what her customers want; Espinel has a good read on her Ft. Lauderdale clientele, and delivers the classics that they want — with her own personal twist, of course. Her creme brulee takes the shape of a pot pie, with a crumbly macademia nut crust and warm berries lurking inside. “Spanish Parfait” combines familiar Spanish flavors in a fun new form, with flan, cinnamon cake, and rhubarb compote topped with churros. Espinel’s got drive — one her favorite parts of her job is creating new pastry programs (which she’s currently doing at the new Johnny V’s opening in St. Petersburg this summer).

The Drinks that Clinched it:
– Spanish Parfait: Layers of Cinnamon Cake, Rhubarb Compote, and Flan Mousse, topped with a Churro
Three Berry Crème Brulee Pot Pie with Macadamia Crust and Seasonal Berries

Ame Brewster, Café Boulud
MIXOLOGIST: Ame Brewster, Café Boulud

As Bar Director at Café Boulud, Ame Brewster creates cocktails are sophisticated and thoughtful, and don’t rely on sugar for their appeal. Brewster has a background in wine (she was an assistant sommelier at Alto in New York), and her appreciation for the small–batch, harder–to–find wines translates directly to her cocktails. Updated classics are a forte — her Collins uses subtle green tea liquor, and her Daisy is made with rye whiskey and finished with an orange cordial. Her cocktail menu mirrors the savory menu, divided by inspiration and character — “La Saison” holds seasonally inspired drinks, and “La Voyage” is inspired by international flavors.

The Dishes that Clinched it:
Rye Daisy
– Café Boulud Bloody Mary

Sommelier: Cynthia Betancourt, Azul

After working with a chef who knew nothing about wine, Cynthia Betancourt resolved to never be dependant on a wine rep for a good list. She began working at a wine store while attending culinary school and when the owner told her she had a good palate, she took the complement and ran with it. Twelve years later, this young, talented sommelier has confidence, drive and guts, and is overflowing with excitement about the vintners she features on her list. She’s a new world wine enthusiast, and each wine comes with an anecdote about the small, innovative producers whose wines she pairs with Chef Clay Conley’s challenging dishes. Betancourt’s ability to shape the experience for her diners is astounding — when she described the Catena Zapata Malbec we could feel Laura Catena’s influence on the wine.

The Pairings that Clinched it:
– Yogurt–Marinated Swordfish with a 2004 Catena Zapata Malbec
– Hamachi Tiradito with a 2004 Prager Riesling

Sommelier: Roberto Colombi, Cielo

Roberto Colombi is a wine wunderkind. The 23 year old has been interested in wine since age 13 when he attended his first wine trade show in Italy (with his Uncle, also a sommelier). Since then he’s worked with Gualtiero Marchesi (the father of modern Italian cuisine) and Angela Hartnett both in London and now at her American outpost, Cielo. Colombi says that food should be tasted first with water, and then with wine — wine changes the food, but it can change it for the better. As sommelier, his job is to guide the experience, teaching the customer to drink and enjoy wine (and food) in a better way.

The Pairings that Clinched it:
– Foie Gras Torchon with Quince Puree with a 2006 Albertus H. Lun Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige
– Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Capers with a 2004 Au Bon Climat Nuits–Blanches au Bouge