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Miami's Top Ten Chefs

Chef Kevin Cory at his omakase-style restaurant Naoe.
Chef Kevin Cory at his omakase-style restaurant Naoe.

Chefs love talking about one another. They discuss talent. They obsess over who cooks better, who lacks integrity, who sold out, who travels looking for recipes to replicate. They talk about hype. They chat about expectations. They know what their colleagues are cooking. They have opinions about every chef-driven restaurant in town.

What follows is a list of the top ten chefs in Miami. Some are innovators; others are traditionalists. Some have been around for a while. One or two popped up within the past few years. Regardless of tenure, age, sex, or cuisine, this group features the people shaping our city's epicurean vista.

In a city where chefs are consistently competing, tattling, and judging, this is a ranking of the very best.

Michael Pirolo makes delectable fresh pasta at Macchialina.
Michael Pirolo makes delectable fresh pasta at Macchialina.

10. Michael Pirolo Michael Pirolo is a man who knows good pasta. The Jackson Heights-born chef worked at Scott Conant's Scarpetta in New York and Miami Beach before opening Macchialina alongside the Pubbelly boys. Now, at the popular Alton Road restaurant, Pirolo prepares some of the best pasta in town: cavatelli with meatballs, porchetta, and pecorino cheese; decadent short-rib lasagne with Taleggio; spaghetti alle vongole with littleneck clams and arugula. Pirolo's pasta-making skills are unrivaled in the Magic City. That's why he makes the cut as one of our leading chefs.

Interior of Brickell's Momi Ramen.
Interior of Brickell's Momi Ramen.
Momi Ramen via Facebook

9. Jeffrey Chen Jeffrey Chen, the owner and chef of Brickell's Momi Ramen, opened his eatery in December 2012 and, in a matter of months, has achieved a reputation for serving the best ramen in town. But Chen declines interview requests. He refuses to be photographed. What is known about the chef is this: He makes excellent ramen. With Momi, the Magic City has finally joined the nation's noodle craze.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

David Bracha at his Design District restaurant, Oak Tavern.
David Bracha at his Design District restaurant, Oak Tavern.
billwisserphoto.com

8. David Bracha David Bracha's River Seafood & Oyster Bar in Brickell is not driven by trends. Neither is Bracha's Oak Tavern, the Design District restaurant that opened late last year. Both restaurants proffer farm-centered cuisine -- the former venue with a focus on seafood; the latter with a concentration on house-made charcuterie and wood-oven-roasted meats. For years, Bracha has been a proponent of local food and fresh fare. Because his cooking is consistent, delicious, and homespun, he is considered among the city's best.

Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, chef of Khong River House in South Beach.
Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, chef of Khong River House in South Beach.
50 Eggs

7. Piyarat Potha Arreeratn Prior to the debut of Khong River House in South Beach, Miami patrons seeking Thai cuisine beyond rich curries and hearty noodles had few options. Piyarat Potha Arreeratn changed that. Under the tutelage of 50 Eggs CEO John Kunkel, Chef Bee (as Arreeratn is known) developed a menu centered on fresh vegetables, piquant flavors, and aromatic herbs. Some dishes were previously hard to find in the Magic City. Now there's a cool spot in town that offers fusion cuisine from Laos, Burma, Vietnam, and Thailand. Chef Bee merits this accolade.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

Kris Wessel, chef of Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm Hotel.
Kris Wessel, chef of Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm Hotel.

6. Kris Wessel Frogs' legs, alligator empanadas, and grilled squab breast are all staples at Kris Wessel's Florida Cookery at the posh James Royal Palm Hotel. But Wessel didn't always run a ritzy SoBe kitchen. For years, the chef owned Red Light Little River, a dingy yet charming restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard. At times, the service staff was composed of Wessel, a dishwasher, and a single waitress. After closing Red Light, the chef opened Florida Cookery. There, the local cuisine is inspired by a late-'40s pamphlet about Sunshine State cooking that belonged to his grandmother. Florida Cookery is more than just a restaurant; it's a symbol of a chef's dedication to our state's native cuisine.

Sam Gorenstein brings fresh fish to Miami with My Ceviche.
Sam Gorenstein brings fresh fish to Miami with My Ceviche.
billwisserphoto.com

5. Sam Gorenstein Sam Gorenstein is only 29 years old, but that matters little. Even if he were older, his resumé would still be impressive. His history features stints under Laurent Tourondel in New York and Michael Schwartz in Miami, a post as chef de cuisine at BLT Steak, a nomination for James Beard's Rising Star Chef of the Year, and a position as executive chef for the Raleigh Hotel. In 2012, though, he gave it all up to open a seafood shack next to a hostel in SoFi. Since then, My Ceviche has triumphed due to its fresh, affordable fish. Gorenstein is scheduled to open a second location in Brickell. (Additional locations will probably follow soon.) For ditching haute cuisine for tacos and ceviche, and for his remarkable talent, this chef is number five.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

Michelle Bernstein designs Havaianas and makes good eats.
Michelle Bernstein designs Havaianas and makes good eats.
via SOBEWFF

4. Michelle Bernstein Michelle Bernstein does much more than create food-and-wine-inspired Havaianas. The James Beard Award-winning chef, Iron Chef America winner, and cookbook author owns two Miami restaurants: the Upper Eastside staple Michy's and Crumb on Parchment, a Design District café with freshly baked goods. Although Bernstein has been a mainstay in Miami for years, in the past few years she has evolved from local chef to full-blown personality. She makes TV appearances, has a line of cookware, and opened the Miami chapter of Common Threads. She continues to be one of the Magic City's central culinary figures.

Dena Marino chats on her celly at MC Kitchen.
Dena Marino chats on her celly at MC Kitchen.
billwisserphoto.com

3. Dena Marino At MC Kitchen, Dena Marino excels at Italian cuisine. There are pastas, there is fish, and there is also great salad. No other chef in town can roast an octopus like Marino can. In her rendition, the sea creature's tentacles are dressed with Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper, and garlic. The octopus is charred, tossed with sherry vinegar and pancetta, and served alongside black rice and frisée. It is an excellent dish. Marino also owns Mercato, a café that supplies the Design District with MC-level cuisine at affordable prices. Though Marino is a relative newcomer, she flies high on our ranking for offering the district high and low Italian fare.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

Michael Schwartz, James Beard Award-winning chef.
Michael Schwartz, James Beard Award-winning chef.
Ben Fink

2. Michael Schwartz Michael Schwartz is a James Beard Award-winning chef who owns the Genuine Hospitality Group -- a bundle of restaurants that includes Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (Miami and Grand Cayman), Harry's Pizzeria, and the upcoming Cypress Room. Although there are other local restaurant groups that rival Genuine in size, none is spearheaded by a chef. This proves that Schwartz is more than just a talented cook. He's also a savvy businessman who has developed a family of Miami's top restaurants. The combination catapults Schwartz to nearly the head of the list.

Kevin Cory knows sushi better than any other chef in town.
Kevin Cory knows sushi better than any other chef in town.
via naoemiami.com

1. Kevin Cory Naoe is the type of restaurant that every dining scene needs. It isn't large: The setting has only eight seats available per service; there are only two seatings per evening. It isn't located in a high-traffic spot: Naoe is nestled in residential Brickell Key. The Japanese restaurant functions omakase-style, which means meals are chef's choice. But Cory's choices are always delectable. The soft-spoken toque serves the most pristine seafood in town. That's why Naoe recently earned five stars from Forbes Travel Guide. It's also why he tops our list.

Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of Miami® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

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