Scott Fredel of Pilar Is a Fisherman, a Family Man, and Once Worked at EuroDisney
The family man has worked as a chef at some of Miami's finest dining spots like Norman's and Rumi. This lover of the sea named his restaurant after Hemingway's boat Pilar. A true sailor and a guy who loves fish, his eyes lit up when talking about these water bound beasts. His restaurant is located in Aventura, where the hungry can find a comfortable place to dine and relax.
New Times: You're from Miami. Is there a place you remember eating in Miami growing up that you really loved?
Scott Fredel: My uncle was actually Sol Kaplan he used to have The Pub and Embers, him and his brother Sol and Walter Kaplan, so that was always kinda fun going there. Big difference, they used to do three four thousand covers a night and there was really nowhere else around to go. You know, Joe's or whatever, just really those staple restaurants really.
You fished as a child. What is it about fishing that captures you?
We're in South Florida, so the water's beautiful a lot of people don't really realize that, just so close to the Bahamas. So, before, when I was in high school, like in the late '80s, early '90s, it was really easy just to run across, they didn't have customs and immigrations then, so I used to run to the Bahamas three, four times a week, just fish, you know, I wasn't really it it, I did it because I loved it, and I wasn't really in it to make money, just enough for gas money and the boat. Of course, I was bringing in the freshest seafood, and selling it for a quarter of what any other places were selling it for to restaurants and chefs, like on Lincoln Road, in that early stage when Miami was just kinda starting to get on board as far as a serious restaurant town.
How'd you get over there?
By boat. Well, I started off fishing with a friend and then I got my captain's license, and I would take care of a few different boats and I would use their boats until I got my own boat.
Adventurous! What led you to go the Culinary Institute of America?
It's funny. I went to Beach High, I graduated Beach High, and a friend of mine was already cooking from there, and another old time restaurant in North Bay Village was A Place for Steak so his grandfather owned A Place for Steak which was like the Embers back then, a lot of old timers will be familiar with it. And he was going, he was already working there, so when I decided I wanted to cook, I had to get a job first, because they wouldn't even take me. Now the schools are so hungry, they'll take everybody, but before you had to actually work for a year at an accredited restaurant, and the average age was back in CIA when I graduated, I think I was nine years younger than everybody in my class. I graduated at 20.
So, I had to get a job, so I got a job there. I didn't know much about schools, but he had already done all the groundwork and he was working there, and he was like come, we'll live together, it'll be fun in New York, and I had never left Miami Beach. So, it was exiting, and I thought, yeah, let's do it. I worked there, and he went up to CIA, and then I got accepted and he dropped out. But I ended up finishing, I went anyway. We never ended up living together, but that's how I got all hooked up into going to culinary school.
What happened between that and you becoming the executive chef at Rumi?
I finished CIA, they were opening, I wanted to go to Europe, my graduation was kind of a big deal, I was in school, Paul Bocuse' son was in my graduating class, which was a big deal, I don't know if you're aware, he's a real famous chef, one of the godfathers of cooking. You have Auguste Escoffier, the first chef to be a chef and not a slave, and then he had once disciple, and this guy was a disciple of that disciple, the last living disciple of Auguste Escoffier. So, his son was in my class, and he wasn't as serious as his father was but it was really cool, and it was kind of an in to go over there, and when I was finishing I saw in the recruiting office that Disney was opening their EuroDisney. So, I couldn't really get anything other than a two-month work visa unless I went there, so there I got an 18-month work visa.
So, I took that job because you couldn't work too many hours there because it was a big company, so I figured I'd get that job and then I'd stage with Bocuse and Alain Ducasse and Roger Verge and work with some great chefs over there. And just kind of go. I got that job, went over there, and then I ended up, it was this Pascal Oudin, he has a restaurant in the Gables called Pascal's on Ponce, a restaurant like mine, you know, cafe style, not really fine dining, but just good food, good prices. And Pascal before that was the executive chef at the Alexander on the beach but he's a French guy, his wife was from France and he wanted to be back in France. I had no idea any of this. He was the executive chef of EuroDisney at the time, which was a big job. He saw somewhere, someone was talking about fishing that I was from Miami Beach and, of course, it intrigued him because he had left Miami Beach because his wife was homesick or something. And, a really nice guy, and he actually hooked me up, and he was like you need to work here and here, this would be great. It was really neat.
So, it's like lucky!
I was like gung ho. I went over there with a backpack and I was like ready to leave at any given minute I could just throw my stuff and go and work somewhere else. So, my mission was to get a long-term visa, and just go over there and learn as much as I could for that 18 months, cause I was so young when I went there. A lot of people had a lot more experience.
So, EuroDisney, how was that?
It was crazy, because now it's really evolved but when I first went there, that's when they were battling, they had like, my first day of work they had tanks. Tanks. The army was there guarding because they built it, EuroDisney got built by an American company on the most fertile land outside of Paris, farming land. So, the farmers were pissed because not only was the land taken, but it was taken by an American company. The farmers were rebelling against the company. It was really ugly. All while I was there after six months they finally got smart and hired a French company to operate all the food and beverage, which I still think they do to this day. The French company came in, made peace, amends with everybody and started buying food from those farmers. They were still pissed off that they were there, that wasn't changing. They started buying all their product... They were bringing everything in, I guess it's a Disney thing, they were bringing product from here instead of supporting the local area, so it really pissed everybody off. I remember the first time I got off the train, and I had never really gone anywhere, from Miami Beach to New York to Paris, and it was literally like there were 40 tanks, 40 armed tanks.
I came back from there, when I came back and worked for Dennis Max on Max's on South Beach. I was Gary Simon's sous chef for awhile, and that kind of fell apart with them, they fought and that's when the chef du cuisine was friends with Norman Van Aken and they said, yeah, you know, you work great, why don't come over here, we're going to open Norman's. And I opened Norman's and I was there for a few years and that's it and then I did a thing for a friend of mine at Stella Blue, I was a chef at restaurant and bar and partner that we did on Lincoln Road where Miss Yip's is.
Was. They closed, they moved to Biscayne. What about Rumi?
Then I went to Rumi. I was going to do Pilar on a space on the beach where Sardinia, the Italian restaurant right there on the corner on Purdy. My friend owns the Purdy Lounge that I grew up with on the beach, and I was trying to buy that building from the owner, and I gave the deposit, I was going to buy that building and be the landlord to the other tenants and keep that space for Pilar, cause I always had the plan to do that. Then the guy screwed me, that's when the beach property was just going completely nuts. I had a contract that I thought was for the building, he said it was for the space and I wasn't really, I was too young and stupid, he screwed me, and he knows he said what he said, but whatever. That fell apart.
Then Alan Roth from the beach, Alan, who we also all grew up together, had the Rumi space that he was trying to put together, and he found an investor, and the investor said they really have to have it as a restaurant. They don't want it to be a typical club thing. He said flat out, I need you to do this, I'm sorry about the other thing, but this is going to be great, it'll be awesome, and I promise it'll be a serious restaurant. And it'll be great.
I went there when I was younger, but I never ate there.
I was there when while it was open for two years. And I told them that I was going to look for a space. The other thing was I was the only married guy with kids in the whole group of eight of us. And to be a partner, I was like a working partner, in something like that to have all these guys, it just gets out of hand, especially when your partnership and bonuses are on a fixed number, and they're going nuts, just typical South Beach. It was just nuts. I said, look, I'm going to do this, I want to do this, but eventually, I'm still going to look for my own little place. So, I actually started building this while I was still over there. They were like, fine, it's cool, you know. And the place was awesome, you know we were packed for dinner, we were really a serious restaurant. It was really cool and they kept their word. We did great. I did James Beard through there, won a bunch of great stuff, and it was fun. It was definitely an amazing experience. Everything happens for a reason and I'm glad that I did that.
How did you leave there?
I found this space, this center, because they built that overpass, this center was really hurting and just sold, but the demographics are the largest and the most central spot in all of Aventura and it was a great corner. And the corner was vacant, it was a bagel place for 18 years before this, and they evicted them and they wanted someone with a great name that would make a really nice restaurant and they gave me a really great deal. So, I took it, I told them, and I still stayed there for like a year as I was building this out. But I had brought a partner, a friend of mine J.D. who I grew up with too, who's still one of my best friends, so it didn't really matter cause I had J.D. around so they would be fine regardless.
Yeah, but then they all fought.
And then they closed.
Yeah, the whole thing just kind of fell apart. And J.D., we were friend with Matt Damon, J.D. ended up, right when I left, he's like, I don't want to be there without you, I'm just going to stay with Matt full time, you know.
So, he's Matt Damon's chef?
Make sure to read less about Matt Damon, and more about sustainable fishing in the second part of this interview.
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