Community Demands Local, Chef-Driven Restaurants

Community Demands Local, Chef-Driven Restaurants
F is a local blogger at FoodForThoughtMiami.com and an active member of the Chow Community. I recently ran across his blog and emailed him a couple questions. Here's what he had to say...

"Honestly, I'm in many ways very much against this whole return to the kitchen thing. Restaurants need our business. I'm always capable of cooking at home but I can't go out to Restaurant X if it closes for lack of customers. How about Miami needs more local chef-driven restaurants in cheaper low-rent neighborhoods, instead of overblown steak houses in big hotels by carpet-bagging chefs from NY and elsewhere?

Hotel steak houses? Let's talk steak houses generally, then circle back to the hotel issue. It's just so formulaic. You take a few cuts of beef (some "Wagyu" if you want to get real fancy), some potatoes, a truffled mac and cheese, a wedge salad, and presto -- there's your menu. It's not necessarily bad food -- I had an excellent meal at Bourbon Steak, which exemplifies everything I just complained about -- it's just not that interesting to me. The format stifles creativity.

Hotel restaurants? I'm not against them per se. They seem to be the driving force in the restaurant biz these days, and if you're going to have a fancy hotel you ought to have a showcase restaurant. The Kimpton Group, which runs the Epic Hotel, does a very good job with this, and at least they're doing something different with Area 31 and the focus on locally sourced seafood (I haven't eaten there yet). Actually, I think some of the most creative and cutting edge cooking in Miami is being done at the Trump Resort in Sunny Isles, where they have a once-a-week tasting menu called "Paradigm - the Test Kitchen."But you look at the magnitude of the places in, for instance, the Fontainebleau and it's hard to figure out how they're going to pay for themselves. It's Vegas-scale, and I have a suspicion they're actually betting on casino gaming coming to Miami. I don't know how it makes sense otherwise.

Foreign talent? It would be great if we were actually getting the talent, but we're not. We're getting the name and the menu. It's just a brand. Again, it's not necessarily bad food -- I had a very nice meal at Scarpetta, even though I'm 99% sure Scott Conant wasn't making my pasta. But the format really limits the opportunity for creativity for the local chef de cuisine who's stuck doing someone else's menu who's a thousand miles away. I think this is why so many of them open steak houses -- keep it simple and limit the opportunity for anyone to screw it up.

So what would I want to see? More places like Michael's Genuine, like Michy's, like Talula, like Pacific Time, like Red Light. Places where the chef is personally invested, is present, is able to see what the local purveyors have that week and how to make it best. And I couldn't care less if they're "celebrity" chefs, though it's got to be hard for someone without a name to get financial backing in this market. More creativity, more experimentation. Menus that are fairly priced, that get updated often, that have flexible options (I hope the small dishes
and 1/2 portions aren't a passing trend), and wine lists that don't charge 3 times retail for mediocre wines.

As for where? Hopefully someplace close to me. Seems there's still plenty of spaces along Biscayne Boulevard available."

- F


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