Broken Shaker's James Seyba Talks Black Watermelons and Buns in the Oven

Prior to joining the Broken Shaker last November, James Seyba got his tutelage under Michael Schwartz while working as a sous-chef at Michael's Genuine before moving to New Orleans as chef de partie at Asian bistro Lucky Rooster. Seyba has shaken up (pun intended) the menu twice since settling in at the Freehand Miami.

Seyba and his sous-chef, Anthony Ciancio (also from Michael's Genuine), are working on keeping the Shaker's garden well stocked so that by the time harvesting season peaks, their produce is ready and in full swing. We stopped in to try his summer fare and chat about the the Shaker's indoor restaurant, new kitchen, and rooftop garden.

See also: Broken Shaker's New Chef, James Seyba, Creates Menu Designed to Pair with Cocktails

You might be thinking the Broken Shaker needs absolutely no fixing, and you're right. But with Miami's sweltering heat keeping us from wanting to go outside during half of the year, you'll be glad to know that soon enough you'll be able to sip on Shaker punch and nibble on true farm-to-table grub under air conditioning -- all with the same laid back company you find at the Broken Shaker now.

"We're tearing down the black graffiti wall that divides the building they're working on and the hostel," Seyba said. "It's going to be all one big courtyard that connect the three buildings. It's going to be very cool." That third building Seyba is talking about is the kitchen, which will be directly across from the two-story restaurant and lounge.

The kitchen will be equipped with a rooftop garden that will grow all the herbs, vegetables, and other produce for Seyba and Ciancio to use, as well as the Shaker's mixology wizards. "This is going to give us the ability to be truly farm-to-table to the tenth power," Seyba said. "That term is thrown around so loosely now but we want to be as sustainable as possible."

The new Broken Shaker restaurant will boast a lounge upstairs, while downstairs the restaurant will resemble a house. We're thinking Casa Tua with a hipster and grunge flair -- you know, the Shaker. Expect less finger food and more things you actually need to use a fork and a knife for, unlike the Shaker burger.

The kitchen isn't your typical turnkey operation, which means lots of decisions for Seyba. "I have to make pot and pan decisions by Friday and I never realized how many options for pots and pans exist in the world," he said. "It's head-wracking but so fun because I'm building my kitchen completely from scratch." Not a bad gig -- to build a kitchen from scratch -- when the Shaker's current kitchen doesn't even have a functioning oven. "Everything we've done up to now has been in a tiny kitchen." Not too shabby for a guy who's making his own jerky, pickles, and bacon in house.

Seyba's jerky is finger licking good, seasoned with chili and soy and dehydrated in their dehydration room downstairs. The cattle comes from Creekstone Farms. Grit balls are the perfect sidekick to the beef and made with 100 percent corn -- the grits come from a "grit girl" from Oxford, Miss. If grits, mozzarella sticks, and arancini had a threesome and a child, we imagine it would look and taste a lot like these babies.

And speaking of babies, Seyba may not have an oven to work with at the Shaker, but he's got a bun cooking at home. "A little sous chef -- it's a boy," he said. "Anthony doesn't know yet." He's got a running joke with his fiancé to see which oven -- the Shaker's new kitchen or her internal one -- will go off first.

In the meantime, he and Ciancio have some other things growing. Okinawa spinach, haricot verts (beans), black watermelon, and two types of eggplant -- Black Beauty and Gretel. "We ain't messing around," Seyba said.

Never had black watermelon? Don't feel bad, neither have we. "Black watermelon has a black rind, but inside it's ruby red," said Ciancio. "And the taste is super sweet. It's a more dense fruit than normal." You'll be able to taste it in about four months when the ten pounds at the Shaker are ready to go. "We still haven't decided what we're going to do with it yet. We have to wait and see how they grow and what they look like once we slice it open," Seyba said. "Maybe it will be something we want to puree and use in a cocktail or a soup, and maybe they're so perfect we just want to throw some salt and olive oil on them and call it day."

That mindset of going with the flow and product vs. process -- Seyba's method when it comes to cooking, which means less fuss and letting the ingredients shine -- is what the Broken Shaker has always been about.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha

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