Warm Conversation With Icebox Cafe's Owner Robert Siegmann, Chef Andrea Landini
Don't expect a cold reception from Icebox's owner (left) and chef (right).
Photo by Riki Altman
Let's take time this week to laugh at all those Northerners shivering and bemoaning the excessive dirty white stuff requiring them to wear ugly boots, down-filled clothing, and hats that either make them look like bank robbers or members of the Russian military. Down here, while we saunter around in flip-flops and bathing suits, let's pay tribute to those poor hapless folks by dining at a place that, if only by name, honors their circumstance: Icebox.
Icebox Cafe has been around for 13 years (yes, that would be a baker's dozen) thanks to owner Robert Siegmann, a former caterer. Fed up with schlepping platters through New York's snowy streets, he arrived in Miami and opened a small cafe just off Lincoln Road. Three years later he hired Andrea "Andy" Landini, a young Argentinean who, though a little shy at first, was quick to get into the groove. Fast forward to today: Icebox is known nationally after being featured on Oprah, Andrea's been in the kitchen for a decade, and soon the brand will be known internationally as well. Passengers leaving from Miami International Airport's Terminal D have been able to enjoy Icebox eats to and from domestic flights and soon those leaving the country will grab "Iceboxes" for their journeys, too.
Shall we unwrap Siegmann and Landini's secrets?
New Times: So what's the real story behind Icebox?
Robert Seigmann: I was catering an event in New York. It was right after a huge snow blizzard and I found the truck buried under a 10-foot drift of snow. I said I guess we have to take it all on the subway. I came back home and I said I'm never doing this again. That broke me. It was just too cold.
I didn't know you had a female chef. Where are you from, Andrea?
Andrea Landini: I'm Italian and Spanish. I'm from Argentina.
Bet you can really get fired up then, huh?
RS: She's probably one of the most even-tempered Argentineans I've ever met.
And what's your background, Robert?
RS: I was born in New York and raised in Mexico. I spent my first 18 years down there.
And your culinary background?
RS: From the time I was very young I had a fascination with desserts. My mom would take me to a Viennese bakery in Mexico City. Just the anticipation alone would send me into a frenzy. I started baking when I was 12. I started making desserts for my parents' dinner parties.
AL: He loves desserts. Every time I look at him he's grabbing something sweet.
Andrea, are you professionally trained?
AL: From Argentina. I started in hotel management and when I had my first course in culinary I thought, forget about management. I want to do this. I did my post-graduate in the States, in Ohio at a technical college. Then I came to here to Miami.
Tell me about your menu.
RS: We only recently changed the format here. We used to change the menu every day. It was a very taxing and expensive process, but it was our niche. We created loyalty. Our typical customer base would come three to four times a week. But we needed to become more cost conscious.
Now we change it once every three months. But there's always a style. Everything you eat is homemade-style and delicious and approachable, both in terms of budget and taste.
I like clean food. I've always been intrigued by California cuisine. Andy syncs well with that style. Over time, my role became to urge her and support her to broaden her horizons. Clearly, she had the skill set.
What's the most challenging cuisine for you then, Andrea?
AL: Until the time I came to Miami, my background was Italian-Spanish. And I had a little bit of French contact. But then you come to Miami, which takes a little bit of everywhere. I never was a fan of Asian cuisine. [Robert] opened my mind.
Which one dish do you love and feel most represents you?
AL: It's one of our best sellers: the curry chicken. It's very sensual and very unique in flavor.
RL: And G-d forbid we should think of taking it off the menu. People are not gentle about that.
Andrea, why do you think you've stayed at the same restaurant for so long?
RS: This place kept reinventing itself.
AL: I didn't need to go somewhere else.
Tomorrow we'll find out what happened to the infamous Chocolate Bomb, how Siegmann broke into MIA, and details regarding how the brand is set to take over the world one airline at a time.
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