Todd Erickson: Digital Chef
Haven is a kick-ass 21st-century "gastro-lounge." Wraparound LCD screens glow with scenes that include a peaceful snowfall atop an Alpine mountain range, while an electric late-night crowd knocks down cocktails swirling with liquid nitrogen smoke. It is a gastropub for the digital age — and it's a gas. Amazingly, chef Todd Erickson's globally inspired small-plates menu pulsates with so much energy that it never gets lost in the lights.
Erickson hails from Scottsdale, Arizona, but grew up in Dallas, Texas. "I fell in love with the city. It was a great place to launch my career." Within six months of moving to Texas, the young cook was catering events for Laura Miller, who was then mayor of Dallas.
"So that just kind of snowballed into me meeting Hector Garcia, the soon-to-be owner of Hector's on Henderson, which was the restaurant I opened as executive chef at 24 years old. I was the youngest four-star executive chef in Dallas. That's when it all just really took off."
In January 2010, Erickson took off: He moved to South Beach and into the sous chef position at the new Zuma in downtown Miami. He had never experienced the city before. "I'd been to northern Florida and through Miami for flight connections down to the Caribbean," he recalls. "Other than that, it was what I'd seen on Burn Notice and CSI: Miami. I figured if there are two crime shows in this city, there has to be something not so right."
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Seven months later, Erickson left Zuma to become executive chef at Haven. His "nitro ice cream" has become something of a signature. "I have the ice-cream mix prepared daily, and when a guest orders, I custom-make it with the liquid nitrogen so it arrives at their table smoking. It's fun."
Erickson's haute bar snacks definitely are fun, but his Culinary Institute of America training has him rooted in what matters most.
"I like deconstructing items and unlikely flavor pairings," he explains, "but first and foremost, I'm about flavor and properly seasoned and properly cooked food."
He also thinks the farm-to-table movement "is an amazing thing" and purchases avocados, tomatoes, wheatgrass, and such from Homestead. Just the same, Erickson admits, "If you were to do only farm-to-table in South Florida in the summer, you would be a fruit-salad restaurant."
Erickson probably wouldn't mind being the chef of a fruit-salad restaurant. He describes his style of cooking as "a hybrid of classical, whimsical, global, and regional." Then he adds, "Which is a colorful way to say I like doing it all."
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