It's no surprise that Sam Gorenstein was nominated for a James Beard award. Not only is the young chef a budding talent on Miami's food scene, but his selection was accidentally leaked two weeks prior to the announcement. Nevertheless, the Colombian-born toque is producing creative dishes out of the kitchen of BLT Steak at the Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive. As the chef de cuisine under Laurent Tourondel, Gorenstein executes the steak-heavy menu with aplomb. The daily blackboard menu, which includes local fish, is the main reason he was nominated as a Rising Star Chefs in the country.
The 25-year-old Johnson & Wales grad has had several important mentors.He first worked with Tourondel in New York City (at Union Pacific and BLT Fish). In 2006, he moved back to Miami, where he toiled at Centro and then learned under Michael Schwartz at Michael's Genuine in the Design District. Last year, Gorenstein and Tourondel were reunited for the launch of BLT Steak in Miami Beach.
New Times:What was your first reaction to the James Beard nomination?
Sam Gorenstein: Disbelief. It caught me off-guard. I was not expecting that. It's a great honor to be nominated.
NT: There was some controversy with your nomination, in that it was leaked a few weeks before.
SG: Somehow the information was leaked onto Eater.com. I don't know how. It was unofficial, so it was a misunderstanding.
NT: Did Laurent Tourondel call you?
SG: Of course. It's a really good thing for the restaurant, aside from any personal satisfaction. They mentioned my name, but I have 35 people working alongside me.
NT: Do you think your youth will be a factor in the competition?
SG: I don't know. It's supposed to be a rising star chef, so it's for chefs under 30 years old. It's definitely one of the best things that can happen to an aspiring chef.
NT: In your category, you are the only chef from Florida. Why is that?
SG: In Miami, the gastronomic scene is not the same as in New York or Chicago. Big chefs that were leading the pack in Miami never developed their sous chefs or chefs de cuisines. They didn't nurture the new wave. Laurent has opened 18 restaurants in the company, and he makes sure he develops his chefs de cuisines. Then those chefs will open their own place one day. This never happened in Miami. New talent was never developed. The dining scene got stuck. Miami was a tourist trap. Restaurants were more centralized in seeing how they could extract more money out of the tourism rather than let's put the best product out there. That's changing now. Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz are doing a great job with this. New talent is being nurtured finally.
NT: Have you eaten at any of your competition's restaurants?
SG: No. There is no one here locally. I work so hard that I barely have time to experience the restaurants in town.
NT: Are the James Beard Awards the culinary equivalent to the Oscars?
SG: I guess. It's my first nomination. It's a great honor. I'd love to win the prize and be number one, but just the fact that my name came up on the list is hugely satisfying.
NT: How will you celebrate if you win the Rising Star Chef award?
SG: I don't know. I'm not planning for that yet. I'll go out somewhere and celebrate. We are so busy right now, there's not much time to celebrate.
NT: Since BLT Steak has 18 other locations, how much of the menu is set and how much can you play with food concepts?
SG: We have a daily blackboard with seasonal specials. All of the daily blackboard specials come from me. Right now, I'm running Portuguese octopus and we're doing it with smoked eggplant. I like to work with the freshest ingredients. You get tired of cooking the same menu everyday, so this is my happiness. My love is cooking fish. We are a modern steakhouse but we have a lot of seafood here. It's good to have both options on the menu.
NT: What type of fish do you work with?
SG: I get so excited when I see the fisherman coming with a huge fish. The main thing for me is fresh. Most of the time, they bring the fish with the hook still attached to it. On Friday, I got a 65-pound cobia in. I was like a child playing. We did a ceviche with it and we filleted it.
NT: How many servings does a 65-pound fish yield?
SG: It depends what you do with it. At the restaurant, I like to cut seven-ounce pieces of fish. So, it yields about 40 filets. Sixty-five pounds looks like a lot but once you filet it, it's gone in two days.
NT: Do you need to run the specials by Laurent or do you have full autonomy?
SG: It's pretty much up to us to keep it interesting for the local clientele. It has to keep the line of the restaurant, and he oversees everything that goes on in the restaurant.
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NT: What's your favorite dish on the regular menu?
SG: The Chinese five-spice duck. We buy Long Island ducks and spice it up. We age the whole duck for two weeks. Then we cut off the breasts and pan-sear them. There's mango chutney, foie gras and duck jus. It's a really well-cooked dish. There's creaminess from the foie and the mango chutney has good acidity. Every single ingredient blends well together.
1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
Tomorrow, in part two of our Q&A with Sam Gorenstein, we get more in-depth on why there are too many steakhouses in Miami, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and being hit on by cougars.