Opulence’s Top Celebrity Chef Picks

And the Winners Are …

By Robin Jay top-chef-comboacurioMeet Peruvian Chef Gastón Acurio, brainchild of the new La Mar at Mandarin Oriental, Miami Drenched in classic colors of the Peruvian North Sea – the interior of Miami’s newest upscale cebichería, La Mar at Mandarin Oriental, instantly transports guests to the authentic feel of Peru. It’s the brilliant brainchild of world-renowned celebrity chef and co-proprietor Gastón Acurio. Truly a renaissance man, Acurio is also an author, ardent businessman, former law student, and leader in the Peruvian culinary revolution, with 35 restaurants in 12 countries. This culinary mastermind was once named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by America Economía magazine.

A Chat with Gastón
“I was born to be a chef,” Chef Acurio told South Florida Opulence. “Since I was 8 years old, my dream was to cook, to have my own restaurant. One day, my family convinced me that was not an option, as it was not serious. So I decided to be a lawyer and resign to cooking at home. When I went to Europe, I discovered the role chefs had there: They existed. I was not alone anymore. Seeing them gave me the courage to escape from my law school prison. I started cooking school without my parents knowing. After three years, the lawyer had to tell them that he was not a lawyer – he was a chef.”

Top: Arroz con Mariscos, Middle: Causa Cangrejo, Bottom: Cebiche de Calamar

Top: Arroz con Mariscos,
Middle: Causa Cangrejo, Bottom: Cebiche de Calamar

The entrepreneur’s culinary quest started in Lima with Astrid & Gastón, which he opened with his German-born wife. Today, it is among the top 50 restaurants in the world. “I am a Peruvian chef, so I’m honored to represent my country around the world by spreading the message of fraternity, integrity, commitment and passion that Peru has regarding our food culture,” said Acurio. “We have 7,000 years of food culture. At the beginning, our engineers developed thousands of ingredients from nature, with respect to soil, seasons, environment and nutrition. Later, we developed a multicultural society with our Andean and Amazon heri-tage, with Spain, Italy, Japan, China and Africa. The result of this huge biodiversity and melting pot of cultures is Peruvian food. “We had this treasure hidden for a long time, and what we did was conceptualize it in Peruvian food experiences that seduce the hearts of people around the world, while inspiring our own people. Our dream was to share with the world our culture, flavors, while also being committed to the social and environmental battles we are fighting, not only in Peru, but in all Latin America.”

From tourism and travel to art and cuisine, Peru is the hot topic of South Florida. “We are coming to Miami to be part of the story that hundreds of Peruvian families had been building over the last 20 years,” Acurio explained. “They are the ones who have been working very hard to put Peruvian food at the highest level of preferences. La Mar is coming to join this peaceful army of Peruvian flavors and experiences. Being at Mandarin Oriental, one of the most exciting hotels in the world, is such an honor. Diego Oka, the head chef, will lead his team with passion, integrity and talent.”

At La Mar, Acurio’s team prepares fresh cebiches every day with local fish caught the night before. An anticucho grill and a scintillating Pisco cocktail program offer a traditional Peruvian food experience. “Our goal is to reproduce how we celebrate our food in Peru,” Acurio said.

A Family Guy
With his primary residence in Peru, Acurio is still a family man at heart. “I like to do barbecues at home with my wife, daughters and friends. Actually, my daughters are already grown up, so we also have their boyfriends at the table. I am still learning about that.” If you’ve not yet experienced La Mar, consider this advice: “Start with some cebiches, then go for anticuchos and continue with our great pan-fried rice dishes, always with a Pisco cocktail in hand, and always sharing every dish at the middle of the table.” Welcome to Miami, Gastón!

Josh Capon

Josh Capon

From SOHO to SOBE, Celebrity Chef Josh Capon is taking Miami Beach by storm at Lure Fishbar
“Tequila!” cheered an exuberant Executive Chef Josh Capon as he greeted us with arms stretched toward the ceiling, victory dance style, boogying to the music piped over the sound system of his latest dining hot-spot: Lure Fishbar on Miami Beach. Capon (as he’s affectionately known) is not your run-of-the-mill celebrity chef – and neither is his sophisticated, innovative, seafood restaurant. Miami food enthusiasts are in for a novel experience.

The Chef Entertainer “I always have a good time – hospitality is in my blood,” said Capon, who grew up in Rockland County, New York and – no joke – first went to college to study…dirt. It was an odd choice given that Capon had been in the food service industry since he was 15. Thankfully, his parents brought him to his senses, driving him to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island to study his true calling: cooking. “When I wore that chef’s white jacket, I was like Superman – now I don’t need the jacket anymore…I’m naturally entertaining. My wife gets a kick out of me [and so do his customers!] She says I have no filters. It’s so much more fun to laugh than to be stuffy, like chefs who take food too seriously.

“My philosophy is food should be fun. I’m a sports guy. At my restaurants, I’m the coach, building winning teams for fans who want to have a good time.”  Capon’s philosophy has paid off. He’s the chef-partner behind Lure Fishbar, B&B Winepub and El Toro Blanco in New York City and, now, Lure Fishbar here in Miami Beach. Soon, he’ll have his own television show – Frankenfood – on Spike TV.

A Master of Emotion
Capon’s success hasn’t gone to his head. There’s not a chef more passionate, personal or compelling  – who’s not afraid to laugh, joke and even get misty-eyed during an interview. Pulling up a chair, he turned on his iPhone and randomly read a poem “The Dash” that his Aunt Carol had recited at a family gathering for Rosh Hashanah. A tear streamed down his cheek. (His Aunt was diagnosed with cancer the week of our interview.) Moments later, he stopped a passing waiter and declared, “Quick! Name the singer of the song playing and I’ll give you $20.”  “Billy Joel!” the server replied. “Yes!”  True to his word, Capon handed him a $20 bill.  The Chef’s enthusiasm is infectious. At Lure Fishbar, Capon’s guests arrive hoping for a glimpse of Miami’s newest masterchef, and then leave ready to tell neighbors they’ve become friends with the jovial genius. Now that’s taking social networking to a whole new level!

Left: Sauteed Branzino; Center: Grilled Durade; Right: Sashimi assortment

Left: Sauteed Branzino; Center: Grilled Durade; Right: Sashimi assortment

Capon’s menu is equally as impressive. A clever amuse-bouche (complimentary dish from the chef) arrived at the table: Juevos con Juevos, or deviled eggs topped with caviar. Delish! Next came oysters garnished with pineapple salsa and jalapeño ponzu. Then coconut curry steamed shellfish with clams, mussels and prawns in a green curry broth.

The alluring design of Lure Fishbar is influenced by the celebrated Queen Mary, which embodied the opulence of formal dining and entertainment during the 1920s and ‘30s.  Once you’ve dined at this new culinary gem, you’ll agree: Miami is lucky to have Josh Capon and Lure in its culinary repertoire. Lure Fishbar is located in the historic St. Moritz Hotel building at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel at 1601 Collins Avenue. www.lurefishbar.com



Center: Pork Belly Tacos (Photo: Michael Pisarri)Bottom: Kale Salad (Photo: Tiffany Studio)

Paula DaSilva

Paula DaSilva

Paula DaSilva Rising nonstop from Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” to an angel in South Florida’s paradise kitchen
When 3030 Ocean first opened its doors at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort more than a decade ago, Paula DaSilva was fresh out of culinary school, an upstart talent taking her first steps in an exciting and challenging industry. In this lauded Lauderdale restaurant, DaSilva sharpened her skills, refined her palate and laid the groundwork for an amazing career.

DaSilva’s forte and zeal earned her a coveted spot on Gordon Ramsay’s fierce “Hell’s Kitchen” television cooking competition in season 5 – an experience that skyrocketed her career.

“It was a grueling six weeks that tests your patience, your pain threshold and both your physical and mental well-being,”
DaSilva told the media. “It’s a military boot camp of cooking, but it was an amazing experience.”

The Celebrity Chef’s Return to Florida
Fast-forward: After an acclaimed stint as Executive Chef at 1500° at the historic Eden Roc resort on Miami Beach, during which time the restaurant was named one of the “Best New Restaurants in America” by Esquire magazine, DaSilva returned to 3030 Ocean in 2013 as its Executive Chef and has unveiled an array of exciting new dishes.

“Between its name and location, the restaurant has always been a destination for fine seafood and there’s no desire to move away from that completely,” says DaSilva, whose signature farm-to-table style is both refined and rustic, the delicious product of precise technique and soulful cookery. “My goal with the new menu is to broaden the scope of 3030’s offerings and introduce new dishes, new styles and new inspirations that complement some of the elements that 3030 is known for.”

The Tantalizing New Menu
Entrees encompass the land and sea. Grilled swordfish comes with potato hash, roasted organic carrots, tomato and caper sauce.  Crispy whole snapper is served with pork fried forbidden black rice, bok choy and Thai chili sauce. A to-die-for salt cod is served with cured olives, Calabrese peppers, baby fennel, egg gribiche and beans.  Roasted B&E chicken comes complete with Anson Mills polenta, and grilled beef tenderloin is topped with a duck egg and served with French fries. Veggie lovers and vegetarians – who very much found a home at 1500° by virtue of DaSilva’s farm-centric cooking – will rejoice in her new vegetarian chef’s selection, which will change based on season and availability.

Desserts follow suit in style, from warm Nutella bread pudding topped with pecans, cherries and cayenne ice cream,  and carrot cake with pecan praline, to a banana cream tart with dulce de leche ice cream and milk crumb topping.

With a slew of new delights from the kitchen, foodies and cocktail fans have never had greater reason to visit (or return) to 3030 Ocean. Check it out at  www.3030ocean.com


Michael Mina

Michael Mina Launches Michael Mina 74 at the Iconic Fontainebleau
Since 1954 when Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin first strolled Fontainebleau Miami Beach, the iconic hotel has proven a symbol of style and sophistication. Now, another legendary icon – Chef Michael Mina – joins the Golden-Era
glamour of his Rat-Pack predecessors at his new American-style bistro: Michael Mina 74.

“It’s the only restaurant where I’ve been able to create a collection of menu items inspired by my travels,” Chef Mina told South Florida Opulence. “People in Miami really like bold-flavored food, which excites me because that’s what I like to cook. It’s been fun adding my twists on dishes that work well in warm weather, sprinkling in the exotic flavors from around the world. So in that way, it does carry a little something extra that’s my own.”

Planning Michael Mina 74 took plenty of ingenuity to please South Florida foodies who have grown into quite the
discerning crowd.


Top: Shabu-Shabu; Left: Truffle donuts;Right: Salt-baked beets and hazelnut salad

“Miami is a unique food scene compared to the other cities where I have restaurants. Diners here have an immense selection, and higher standards, in terms of cuisine due to the melting pot that is Miami. There are so many cultures and ethnicities here that we’re hard-pressed to impress them with something new. That’s why we’ve focused on using the best ingredients and really played with different flavors from around the world. There’s this sexy edge and a fantastic, lively atmosphere here.” The four key elements that define a Michael Mina menu are a balance of spice, richness, acidity and sweetness. And for good reason.

“The life of a chef is one of extremes: What I’m constantly seeking in my culinary and personal life is balance. The key ingredient to achieving balance is my family, starting in the morning when my boys wake me up with a big hug. Then we head into the kitchen together for fun and fuel — both culinary and spiritual. After breakfast, I drive them to school — a sacred part of the day for me. Throughout the day, I seek out innovative and energizing ways of bringing more harmony and balance into my life and into my restaurants to delight my customers.”

So what delights South Floridians most at Michael Mina 74?
“The Shabu-Shabu is a must,” he says. “It’s a fun way for our guests to be a part of the cooking process of the Japanese Wagyu beef. The presentation of the caramelized dashi broth pot served over an open flame is astounding and resonates with everything I believe in when it comes to using high-quality ingredients, particularly the quality of the meat and the freshness of the vegetables,” Chef Mina said.
For reservations, call 877-326-7412 or visit www.fontainebleau.com/web/dining/michael_mina_74.

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay Introduces Bobby’s Burger Palace, his first restaurant in Florida
Good thing for burger lovers that Bobby Flay threw in the towel as a Wall Street stockbroker (seriously!) and picked up his culinary gauntlet for a burger throwdown – now in Miami at Bobby’s Burger Palace.  The celebrity chef has taunted South Florida foodies for years now with his one-night gourmet burger flipping at the Burger Bash beach event during the annual South Florida Food & Wine
Festival. But now, Flay’s fans can sink their teeth into his creative patties anytime they like at his new burger joint at Dadeland Mall.

“My favorite thing to eat is a cheeseburger,” Bobby said. “And at BBP, I celebrate America’s variety of flavors, styles and cultures
surrounding this classic staple, offering a selection of specialty burgers, served at a great price. Miami has great restaurants and a very forward-thinking food community, so I’m very excited to be able to share this with the families and residents of the city.”

Bobby’s entourage invited me to bring my boys to his Burger Palace for a tasting. We sampled great gourmet burgers, each paired with a decadent shake (clever fresh-made flavors like pistachio, coconut and blueberry-pomegranate) and sweet-potato fries with a flight of dipping sauces. Talk about a burger fest!

Each BBP burger is Bobby’s tribute to America’s regional flavors and traditions, made with certified Angus beef, quality toppings (locally sourced when possible), house-made condiments – and crunchified with potato chips beneath the bun if you choose.  Patrons can select from 10 signature burgers made-to-order.

Top Left: Buffalo Burger (Photo: Melissa Hom) Top Right: Philadelphia Burger  (Photo: Melissa Hom) Bottom: L.A. Burger (Photo: Melissa Hom)

Top Left: Buffalo Burger (Photo: Melissa Hom)
Top Right: Philadelphia Burger (Photo: Melissa Hom)
Bottom: L.A. Burger (Photo: Melissa Hom)

These were our favorites:
The Miami Burger – a Cuban sandwich-inspired burger, the
Miami Burger is pressed with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard
and mayonnaise;
The Bobby Blue Burger – piled high with blue cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato;
The Buffalo Style Burger – with red hot sauce, blue cheese dressing and watercress;
The Dallas Burger – a spice crusted beef patty with coleslaw, Monterey Jack cheese, BBQ sauce and pickles;
The Philadelphia Burger – with Provolone cheese,  griddled onions and hot peppers; and
The L.A. Burger – with avocado, cheddar cheese, relish, watercress and tomatoes.
For fun, try what my family did: Order a variety of gourmet burgers and cut them into sections to share. Be sure to ask for a stack of napkins; with these loaded belt-busters, you’ll need them!

Bobby’s Burger Palace is located in the new wing of the Dadeland Mall at 7535 North Kendall Drive, Miami. Visit www.bobbysburgerpalace.com.

Opulence’s Top Celebrity Chef Picks