It has been nearly three years since 32-year-old Kareem Anguin took over the reins at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Brickell, earning him the title of youngest executive chef at a Landry's-owned restaurant.
Short Order was recently invited to try out Oceanaire's newly launched Sunday brunch, and we seized the opportunity to catch up with the Jamaica-native about sustainable fishing, Iron Chef, and life as a top toque.
Short Order: What was your inspiration for the brunch menu?
Kareem Anguin: Our thing is fresh seafood and we wanted our brunch to reflect that because that's what people come here for. That's why we have the jumbo lump crabcake benedict ($18.95); the seafood scramble with crab, shrimp, smoked salmon and onions ($18.95); and then you've got classics like French toast and waffles. I think the brunch menu is great now.
There's a jerk chicken sandwich on the brunch menu, and jerked Panamanian mahi mahi is available for dinner, do you offer other Jamaican-influenced dishes?
From time to time; I like to switch it up. Sometimes I do conch fritters. Yesterday, I did stewed goat for dinner as a special. It all depends on how I feel. Sometimes I like to make traditional Jamaican dishes. Yesterday someone brought me goat and I played around with it. I kind of did it Haitian style where they fry it and stew it in this tomato sauce. I make this Jon Jon rice and I use black mushrooms that turn the rice black. I still have a lot of freedom here.
Do you have a favorite Jamaican dish?
Curry goat. That will be the dish I eat before I die.
Have you seen a lot of changes in Miami's food scene in the nearly three years you've been executive chef?
A lot of changes. More from the standpoint that people have a lot of allergies now. A lot of people come in wanting gluten-free stuff; I get that all the time. It's kind of a challenge because basically everything has some form of gluten or something in it. People ask us if we're going to do a gluten-free menu, but that's something I have to talk to my corporate chef about and that takes a while.
Also the fusion of different cuisines. When you go out you'll see pastas, you'll see a couple of options for sushi, or Spanish influenced dishes. You have a lot of different cultures here that you have to accommodate which makes things a little challenging. Our thing is fresh seafood, you can't really mess that up.
Isn't getting fresh fish that fits in with Oceanaire's sustainable ethos a challenge in and of itself?
Yes it is. You have to be aware of a lot of different things. For instance, you can't use grouper all the time. We only use halibut six months out of the year because we get it from Alaska. With salmon, we use fresh king salmon when it's available. If the product is good there's not really much I have to do. I try to keep it very simple.
That looks like an Iron Chef badge on your arm, what's that about?
We're owned by Landry's. Now, each year they bring in all the chefs from all their different concepts and do their own Iron Chef thing. I guess this is where they find out what recipes they want to put on different menus. I was in the appetizer category and I won that round.
The seafood scramble at Oceanaire
Photo by Valeria Nekhim
What did you make?
I made a pianono which is a Puerto Rican dish. It's sweet plantains sliced really thin with chicken that you shred down and cook in a nice tomato sauce with capers, a lot of cilantro and onions. You just wrap it, stuff it and present it with a fried plantain chip and fresh avocado. I kept it pretty simple because I had to fall in line with a budget. It had to be for $3 to $4. The presentation was great so I think that's why I won it.
Any local restaurants you enjoy dining at?
I like Toscana Divino, the River Seafood and Oyster Bar, Oak Tavern, SushiSamba, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Swine Southern Table & Bar and Khong River House. I just try to hangout and keep my head in the game to see what other guys are doing.
What direction would you like to see Oceanaire go in?
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I have freedom to do what I want to do, so I think we're going to keep going with the seasons. The neighborhood is great, there's a lot more people moving here. When we first moved here it was us, Rosa Mexicano and P.F. Chang's. Now there are so many restaurants coming in. It's better than South Beach; there's a more mature crowd in Brickell. In South Beach, you get a lot of young kids, a lot of tourists. Brickell is becoming where you want to go to have a nice meal.
Follow Valeria Nekhim on Twitter @ValeriaNekhim