Those tired adages about Miami’s dining scene must be retired. You know, the ones calling it superficial, behind the times and not service oriented. The young talents on our first-ever Miami 30 Under 30 list are hands-on about their work, and draw on the city’s landscape, flavors and personality for inspiration. They’re as diverse as the city’s population, and as energetic as a busy day on Ocean Drive. Together they’re rewriting what it means to eat and drink in Magic City.
By Margit Bisztray (with reporting by Carissa Chesanek); Photos by Giovanny Gutierrez
Eileen Andrade, 26Owner at Finka Table & Tap
For croquetas in Miami, Islas Canarias is the place to be. But Andrade, the granddaughter of that landmark’s founders, is coming on strong at her own spot, Finka (a play on the Spanish word for farm), where she’s serving updates on the family’s specialty, including a bacon cheeseburger croqueta. The rest of her Cuban comfort-food menu incorporates Peruvian and Korean influences to a western reach of the city best known for straightforward Latin food. Diners pack the cheerful, cabinlike space, devouring Cuban fried rice and “Cubichi” sandwiches of pulled pork, wasabi mustard and kimchi.
Side Dish: Andrade didn’t always want to be in the family business: She initially enrolled in fashion school.
Mandy Baca, 27Culinary Author
Disenchanted with the corporate environment of hospitality school, this Miami native hopped the pond to study at the University of Gastronomic Science, founded by the Slow Food movement, in Bra, Italy. Upon returning home, she wove her way through marketing positions of the InterContinental, turning eventually to writing. She has contributed to Short Order, Haute Living, Biscayne Times and Edible South Florida. Her first book, The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs and Empanadas, was published in 2013, and this year she’ll publish her second, Discovering Vintage Miami.
Side Dish: She's of Nicaraguan descent, and didn’t learn to speak English until she was five.
Angelina Bastidas, 24Executive Sous-Chef at Tongue and Cheek Restaurant
One of Bastidas’ greatest culinary memories was a trip to Wish for her 12th birthday, when chef Michael prepared stuffed rabbit. After graduating from Cordon Bleu, her career moved quickly. She won employee of the year while in the rookie position of lead line cook at Area 31, and immersed herself in kitchens like The Bazaar and the Palme D’Or. Her work choices are deft and informed, attuned to structure and the motivation of management. As chef-owner Jamie DeRosa’s right hand, she “lives” at work and thrives on tasks like concocting four perfect purées to accompany lamb belly.
Side Dish: She is “shockingly great” at Halo.
Alex Chang, 25Executive Chef at Vagabond Restaurant and Bar
Raised by a single mother, Chang learned to cook with a Rachael Ray cookbook. While a kinesiology major in Los Angeles, he and a roommate hosted underground dinner parties. One guest, a filmmaker, produced a documentary on the project that aired at the Tribeca Film Festival, launching Chang’s chef career. After stints in Japan, Mexico and Belgium, he was scooped up by Alvaro Perez Miranda to open at the Vagabond. Chang enjoys the creativity forced by subtropic growing seasons, experimenting with exotic ingredients like jackfruit and creating Miami-inspired vinegars using plantain and pineapple.
Side Dish: Half-Mexican, half-Chinese, Chang grew up eating tamales for Christmas and dim sum on Sundays.
Samantha Frei, 28Pastry Chef at The Palms Hotel & Spa
A fan of sci-fi, Frei appreciates the “tango between science and art” of her trade. A graduate of Johnson & Wales, Frei prides herself on thinking outside the realm of the traditional, incorporating savory elements and unusual spices into her desserts — think chipotle- and clove-infused chocolate cake. Midwestern by birth, she enjoys Miami’s Latin flavor, saluting it in dishes like coconut and lime semifreddo with guava-yuzu sauce. Serving both the restaurant and catering at the eco-conscious Palms Hotel, she adapts her baking formulas for gluten-, lactose- or dairy-free requests, like a regular Dr. Who of sweets.
Side Dish: Her soft spots are cats, a good taco and a great craft beer.
Nunzio Fuschillo, 29Chef de Cuisine at Bocce
When they were teenagers in Naples, Italy, Fuschillo’s best friend suggested they attend the city’s public (as in, free) chef school. The friend became a lawyer, but Fuschillo was hooked. After training in France, Spain and “north to south” in Italy, he met his American wife and they moved to Miami. Fuschillo’s dishes at Bocce may not be traditional — his Bolognese is made with short ribs, his ravioli with beets and goat cheese — but he swears his grandmother would approve.
Side Dish: He loves flowers, especially orchids, and he collects porcelain pigs.
Benjamin Goldman , 25Sous-Chef at Juvia
While a student of microbiology, Goldman envisioned a career in orthopedics or plastic surgery. Then he discovered it was cooking that inspired him. After graduating from Johnson & Wales in North Miami, he worked at Talula, but it was working as part of SHIKANY’s opening team that broke him in completely. “I worked my ass off to prove myself,” he says. His fall menu’s spectacular halibut — it’s embedded with coriander microgreens and served with spiced red wine sauce and bitter orange-mascarpone crémeux — offered plenty of proof. Next, he’ll team with Menin Hospitality for a project coming in early 2015.
Side Dish: After admiring chef Ken Oringer on Iron Chef, Goldman wrote to him asking for a staging position, and took a break from school when it came through.
[Update: Goldman tell us he's no longer involved in the Menin project, and has started a position as sous-chef at Juvia]
Josue Gonzalez, 23Lead Bartender at Ball & Chain and Bartender at Lure Fishbar
This Cuban-born Johnson & Wales student perfected his trade bar-backing at Zuma and working with Shiraz Catering, handling beverages for Vuitton and Dior events. A self-proclaimed workaholic, he attends U.S. Bartender Guild seminars for fun. His Cuban Bloody Mary (a mango base, bell peppers, cilantro, Cuban coffee and a side of chicharrón) won him a spot in a national Absolut competition in New York City. He also knows good bartending requires more than drink know-how, explaining, “Hospitality is even more important than mixology.”
Side Dish: A lifeguard in high school, Gonzalez threw nighttime parties at the Venetian pool where he worked.
Thomas Griese, 28Chef de Cuisine at Michael Mina 74
Raised in rural Indiana, Griese can say with authority, “Good chefs are people of the soil.” Posts in top kitchens like Bouchon, The French Laundry, Le Cirque and The Setai — as well as travels abroad — helped shape his outlook in the kitchen: “Be close to home with your cuisine. Take care of local purveyors.” Working at both Michael Mina 74 and the Fontainebleau, Griese thrives creatively, expressed in dishes like tuna tartare with Asian pear, pine nut, mint, Scotch bonnet and sesame oil.
Side Dish: The son of a veterinarian, he grew up surrounded by animals.
Christine Guzman, 26General Manager at Blackbrick Chinese
Luck alone has not moved Guzman through some of South Florida’s best restaurants, including The Breakers, EOS and Tudor House. “I align myself with people I want to be like,” she says. “I want to work for the best. Who you work for is who you are.” She credits her success to a strong grasp of social media (calling Instagram an industry game-changer), the ability to remember names and faces and the fact that she treats Blackbrick Chinese like home (“because when you’re there 14-16 hours a day, it is”). And it seems to be paying off: In 2014, the restaurant was named a Top 50 New Restaurant by Bon Appétit.
Side Dish: A self-proclaimed “picky eater,” she detests onions.
Bradley Herron, 29Executive Chef at The Genuine Hospitality Group
Moving from LA to Miami for a mere line cook position at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink paid off for this Cordon Bleu graduate. Within five months (at 24), Herron was promoted to chef de cuisine. Now he helps the Michael Schwartz empire tick by overseeing chefs at the James Beard award-winning MGFD, the Cypress Room, Michael’s at The Raleigh and Harry’s Pizzeria. “I’m the glue that holds the kitchens together,” Herron says, adding, “When I miss cooking, I jump on a line, or throw 50 pizzas at Harry’s.”
Side Dish: For an invasive species cook-off, Herron perfected the art of cooking python (sous-vide with herbs and vinegar to tone down the “swampy-ness,” then grilled over charcoal).
Ashley Hutson, 25Front of House Manager at Ortanique on the Mile
We all hate it a little bit when mom is right. But in this case, mom (Ortanique chef-owner Cindy Hutson) was right when it came to what her daughter should be when she grew up. Once Hutson Jr. came around, she switched from pre-med to hospitality, and worked as her mom’s assistant while still in school. She credits her stepfather, co-owner Delius Shirley, for helping her develop a knack with numbers — i.e. the “business side” that balances her mother’s creativity. As the group prepares to open two more locations, Hutson feels the swelling of responsibility. “This is my family, my name,” she says. “We built this.”
Side Dish: She is obsessed with giraffes and even has a nickname, “Ash Giraffe.”
Brad Kilgore, 28Executive Chef/Owner at Alter
Recharged from a dining trip to Peru, Kilgore is ready to shine at Alter, opening spring 2015. He earned stellar ratings while at Azul and J&G Grill at the St. Regis, and he’ll now explore “progressive American dining” in the Wynwood restaurant complete with its own organic garden. Expect Kilgore’s signature savory twists on classic pastry, like Florida citrus “curds” on wahoo crudo. But don’t label his menu. “When you put boundaries on food, you close doors on creativity,” he says. “If I want to top a Thai-French dish with Peruvian chiles, I will.”
Side Dish: A Kansas City native, Kilgore prepares a knockout pepper-crusted brisket.
Andrew Kutz, 26Assistant General Manager at db Bistro Moderne Miami
Proving that the barrier between back and front of the house is a swinging door, this professional began as a culinary student at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After accepting a position at the school, assistant-teaching restaurant management, his shift was complete. An opening staff member, Kutz is the familiar face of guest relations at db Bistro, and the go-to for special events. He also handles the website, social media and holiday promotions. When Daniel Boulud visits, Kutz accompanies him to tour farms and catch up on Miami’s dining scene.
Side Dish: Kutz suspects his husky is the most spoiled dog in the city.
Chris McGrath, 29Head Brewer at Concrete Beach Brewing Company
Five years ago, McGrath was working as an investment banker. One weekend, he visited the River Horse Brewing Company in New Jersey, and soon after quit his job to “basically work as a janitor,” eventually working his way up to lead brewer. Offered a job at Wynwood’s new Concrete Brewing Company, he visited Miami for the first time and fell in love. He’s excited for new ingredients to brew with, like passion fruit and coconut, the community outreach the brewery has planned and the chance to work with the “passionate individuals” on his team.
Side Dish: In his own words, he’s pretty good at dancing for a white kid from the suburbs.
(Photo: courtesy of Concrete Beach Brewing Company)
Alban Mecaj, 28Floor Manager at Seasalt and Pepper
Born in Albania, Mecaj grew up in Brooklyn since the age of 14 — and has the accent to prove it. Opening a restaurant on the Upper East Side prepared him for the demands of a Miami River hot spot where diners pile up to wait. Mecaj sees his job as the “theater” of service, explaining, “Dinner isn’t just the show; it’s the whole mechanism.” Rather than avoiding guests who yell at him, he hears them out or, in response to a hunger rage, delivers them bruschetta and Prosecco. “I put myself in their shoes,” he says. “Having good service can turn someone’s whole day around.”
Side Dish: When a weary family arrived after a restaurant where he worked was closed, Mecaj let them in and cooked them pasta.
Maria Orantes, 22Corporate Pastry Chef at Pubbelly group
A competitive chef in high school, Orantes was discovered at the state fair, winning a scholarship to the Miami Culinary Institute. For an internship at Michy’s, she showed up without even a knife, but after being mentored by chef Jason Schaan and pastry chef Vanessa Paz, she mastered desserts for the Bernstein restaurants. After assisting with Pubbelly group, a red velvet cake called Be My Valentine secured her a permanent position. From apple pie at Pubbelly Steak, to crema Catalana at Barceloneta, her creations must pass co-owner (and pastry chef) Sergio Navarro’s taste test. So far, she’s still winning.
Side Dish: The daughter of a pilot based in China, she travels there frequently and has eaten chicken foot jerky.
Giancarlo Pagani, 28Area Director of Food & Beverage at sbe Miami: The Bazaar by José Andrés, Hyde Beach & Cleo Restaurant
By the age of 16, Pagani was already working for Michael Mina (thanks to an introduction by his father, the GM of the chef’s namesake restaurant in Las Vegas). After helping Mina open XIV in West Hollywood, Pagani joined chef José Andrés at the age of 21. Today, he oversees dining and nightlife for sbe Miami. “Nightlife is all about culture and personality,” says Pagani. “My skill is turning my teams into soldiers, in a fun way. Together we serve guests an amazing time.”
Side Dish: Pagani discovered he enjoys camping after a trip to California with his girlfriend, despite the fact that he returned to work covered in bug bites.
Matthew Phillips, 26Bar Manager at Toro Toro Miami
When Phillips discusses mixology, it sounds a lot like his other passion, surfing. Meaning, it’s all about instinct and going with the flow. “I ask guests their taste preferences — savory, sour, boozy — then watch their facial expressions,” he says. Born and raised in Miami, he grew up with a Jamaican-born father who cooked with exotic ingredients like jackfruit. After bar-backing for expert mixologists Isaac Grillo and Cricket Nelson at the revamped Forge, Phillips worked at the SLS before being asked to manage at Toro Toro, where he rides waves of Latin inspiration in cocktails like passion fruit pisco sours.
Side Dish: In 2015, Phillips will explore Indonesia by catamaran.
Giorgio Rapicavoli, 29Chef-Owner at Eating House
Rapicavoli, whose résumé includes 660 at The Anglers, is best known for his fearless free-spiritedness. In 2011, on a whim, he entered and won Food Network’s Chopped. He then opened a pop-up called Eating House (with co-owner/general manager Alex Casanova), turning a humble location into the city’s hippest eatery, and serving the likes of heirloom tomatoes with liquid nitrogen-frozen coconut milk and brunch items like Cap’n Crunch pancakes. Permanent since November 2013, Eating House has a new sibling, Taperia Raca in the MiMo district, and Rapicavoli a new Chopped Champions win.
Side Dish: As a toddler, he preferred cooking shows to cartoons.
Tyler Ridgeway , 24Head Bartender at Khong River House
Some people just take to bartending like scotch to soda. Ridgeway, originally from Jacksonville, moved to Miami and attended bartending school as a way to break the tedium of working in a pet store. Learning under mixologists John Lermayer (Sky Bar, The Florida Room) and Nick Nistico (SoHo Beach House, Regent Cocktail Club), he moved quickly to SoHo House as head bar back, then Vida at the Fontainebleau as head bartender. Josh Holiday from the Hoxton snapped him up for Khong River House, where he specializes in creative cocktails like a blackberry-lychee punch and a daiquiri made with scotch.
Side Dish: He enjoys scuba diving, and loves his German shepherd, Dartanyan.
David Xavier Rodriguez, 25Head Cellarman/Assistant Brewer at Wynwood Brewing Company
The title “cellerman” is outdated, according to Rodriguez. These days, his duties at the Wynwood brewery include brewing, monitoring fermentation, carbonating, packaging, preparing shipments, maintaining equipment and promoting the brand at events. “We all wear many hats,” he says. “To work 10-13 hours a day boiling 500 gallons of beer in an un-air-conditioned warehouse, you have to have a passion for what you do. We all motivate each other.” Self-taught at 18 (he read books and did online research), Rodriguez took brewing courses at FIU and helped found the university’s brewing club.
Side Dish: An Eagle Scout, Rodriguez spent more time in a tent than in a house for many years of his life.
Samantha Rosen, 25Online Media Manager at Menin Hospitality
After a 5:30 AM CrossFit session and a Panther coffee, Rosen begins her workday by reviewing the social profiles of the company’s businesses and reading every review site. She reports her findings to managers at the businesses (Gale, Sanctuary, Bentley, Pizza Bar, Radio Bar) enabling them to respond personally to users. Recruited from a mini-internship at Basel just out of college, Rosen’s career has blossomed in tandem with the rise of social media. She’s working on a master’s in mass communication from UF — online, of course.
Side Dish: The fastest typist in her office (nickname: Mavis Beacon), Rosen also goes through the most keyboards.
Jessica Sanchez , 28Owner-Chef at Loba Miami
It takes guts to quit the security of a financial analyst job to open a restaurant, but that’s exactly what Sanchez did. So it’s not surprising that the name of her restaurant is Spanish for “she wolf.” In preparation for opening, she tapped her mom (who co-owned Patacon, a chain of Colombian restaurants) for design advice; consulted with Jeziel Colon (MC Kitchen, Mandolin Aegean Bistro), Luis Garcia (Garcia's) and Andy Yeager (Tap 42); and recruited FIU students for staff. Combining her Latin roots with Southern comfort food, Loba’s concept is right on the money.
Side Dish: She once traveled to seven countries in two weeks to “find herself” — a trip she refers to as “Eat, Pray, Love on crack.”
Torrey Solomon, 24Sous-Chef at Red the Steakhouse
Assiduous to the core, Solomon worked full-time at a restaurant in his hometown, Cleveland, through high school. He attended the C.I.A. in New York for two years before switching to hands-on training at Red the Steakhouse. His shift began at three, but he arrived at noon. For four months, he worked at a bakery, unpaid, to learn the trade. When he was just 22, Red offered him the opening sous-chef position for Miami. Even now he sees a kitchen as an integrated whole, in which a dishwasher is equally essential as a chef.
Side Dish: An avid basketball player, Solomon is sure he would have played for the NBA, if only he were taller.
Michael Sullivan, 27Owner and General Manager at OTC Restaurants
Five years ago, with a degree in business administration, Sullivan was bussing tables in New York. Through a series of front-of-house posts, he would help out in the kitchens on his days off, unpaid, to learn the ropes. The gastropub concept, just emerging at the time, intrigued him and he decided to bring it home. In an area of Brickell best known for Latin and Mediterranean fare, he’s serving American comfort food with an emphasis on burgers and craft beer. His training prepared him for the hard work of owning a restaurant, but not for the sense of satisfaction he gets from it.
Side Dish: He’s a sports fanatic who played college football all four years.
Dylan Terry, 28Owner at Ready-to-Grow Gardens
Terry began gardening as a teenager, and, as a student, managed the edible garden at New College of Florida. In 2010 he started Ready-to-Grow Gardens to design, install and maintain edible gardens in urban areas (homes, schools, restaurants, offices and public spaces) as an alternative to the “ornamental over functional” nature of city landscaping and to provide healthy, fresh food sources with no transportation costs. Terry also writes about gardening and food forests (gardens constructed around fruit trees) in Edible South Florida.
Side Dish: He designed the packaging for SunPass while working as an intern at an ad agency.
Ian Tiemann, 24Sous-Chef at Macchialina Taverna Rustica
Fresh out of Le Cordon Bleu, Miami, Tiemann went straight to culinary boot camp by working for chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at The Mercer Kitchen in New York. Back in Miami, he joined Michael Pirolo as sous-chef at Scarpetta for four years, reuniting with him when Pirolo opened Macchialina and hired him on as sous-chef. Tiemann says his favorite dish is the octopus with smoked potato crema, pickled baby onions, concentrated tomatoes and chile oil. He calls it perfectly balanced, and great with a Negroni.
Side Dish: He was offered a football scholarship out of high school.
Xavier Torres, 28Executive Chef at Drunken Dragon
Located in a former strip-mall supermarket (still bearing its neon sign), Drunken Dragon is worth the hunt. Puerto Rican born Torres, who trained at Johnson & Wales, and polished at Nobu, Zuma and The Dutch, wows diners with Korean barbecue and nontraditional Asian dishes like kimchi carbonara and tuna tataki pizza. His workdays, typically 10-14 hours, include daily ordering of meat from Upstate New York farms and chopping up to 50 pounds of bok choy. But it all pays off: “When people are willing to wait an hour to enjoy my food, I feel amazing.”
Side Dish: Inspired by a love of Spain, the chef is working to perfect a Basque dish of mullet with crispy edible scales.
Ian Wogan, 29Arborist and Beekeeper
Early in his career as an organic landscaper and arborist, Wogan helped establish farmer’s markets and community gardens throughout the city (including at FIU). In the process he connected with Jamaican-born beekeeper Steve Cornish. Soon, his Garden of Ian raw honey — harvested locally — was sweetening beverages at Panther Coffee. It also gilds desserts at The Bazaar, where Wogan has waited tables twice weekly since the restaurant opened. He enjoys sharing with guests that the honey on the yuca churros with lime zest is not only local, but bears his name.
Side Dish: In addition to surfing whenever possible, Wogan has paddleboarded from Tampa to Key Largo.