Sam Gorenstein began with breakfast. As a kid in Barranquilla, Colombia, the chef and owner of My Ceviche would step into the kitchen every weekend morning and cook omelets and frittatas for his entire family. "From the moment I was tall enough to reach the knobs on the stove, I started playing around with cooking," says Gorenstein, now 29 years old.
At 14, his family relocated to Miami. When he graduated from high school, he enrolled in the business program at Florida International University. But a few weeks in, he dropped out. "It wasn't the right move for me," he says. The chef switched business for cooking and attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami.
The move launched a pattern of risk-taking for the gentle, sable-haired chef. And these precarious decisions are precisely what would hurl him to success.
In 2004, Gorenstein took another chance. While honing his cooking skills at school, he also worked at a French restaurant called Les Halles in Coral Gables. When Gwen LePape, the chef at the time, landed a gig in New York, he invited Gorenstein to tag along. "Within two weeks of receiving the offer, I'd already quit school, convinced my parents that it was the opportunity of a lifetime, packed my stuff, and moved to the city," Gorenstein remembers.
A few months after moving to Manhattan, Gorenstein accepted a position at Laurent Tourondel's BLT Fish -- a critically acclaimed restaurant that garnered a three-star review from the New York Times. Still, the chef aspired to something greater: a job as an executive chef.
The offer came soon. Gorenstein returned to Miami to lead a Brickell restaurant named Centro. "I knew it was my opportunity to start making my own name and push the envelope," he says. He launched a lucrative career in South Florida, which included stints as the sous-chef at Michael Schwartz's Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, chef de cuisine at Laurent Tourondel's BLT Steak, and executive chef of the Raleigh Hotel. In just a few years, Gorenstein received two James Beard Award nominations and snagged a spot in Forbes' "30 Under 30" list.
But then came a startling announcement: The chef quit his prestigious position at the Raleigh Hotel. He prepared for a venture of his very own. In 2012, Gorenstein partnered with friend Roger Duarte, of George Stone Crab, and debuted a tiny, fast-casual seafood spot in South Beach named My Ceviche.
"I've always had a strongly entrepreneurial spirit, and it finally got the best of me," Gorenstein says. "Doing something that has not been done before and capitalizing on putting my dreams and visions together -- that's what really brought My Ceviche to life."
So why did he focus on seafood? "Textures," the chef explains. "There are so many different types of fish, all with different textures, firmness, and boldness of flavor."
Today, the take-out-only storefront is attached to a tourist-filled hostel. It sells unfussy dishes: octopus burritos, ahi tuna tacos, and Spanish mackerel ceviches for less than $16 -- a startling contrast to the pricey, fine-dining dishes he once turned out at the Raleigh and BLT Steak.
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The shop is a hit. My Ceviche persists as one of Miami's best sources for quick service and affordable local seafood.
Gorenstein and Duarte debuted their second location in Brickell earlier this year. Asked about his brand's future, the chef answers a bit abstractedly. "At the top of the list is expanding My Ceviche," he says. "But who knows? One day I may even find myself back in a more elegant -- not fine-dining! -- kitchen."
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.