Frank Jeannetti's name may not come up when people talk about the most recognizable chefs in Miami, but it should. One look over his resume would clue anyone in on the fact that this guy has really established himself here after big-time stints at Pacific Time, Biltmore, Pearl, and Nemo.
This Brooklyn-born, half-Irish toque used to help his mom prep in the kitchen, and he learned knife skills while working as a delivery boy for a butcher shop. Jeannetti's father has owned an Irish pub for nearly four decades, too. Attempting to deny his fate, Jeannetti took a job on Wall Street for a couple of years before realizing he "just wasn't digging it." Then his company started letting people go and his father suggested, "Why don't you be a chef?" Jeannetti was 24. Less than one month later, he was off to culinary school in New York.
While studying, he did an internship with Daniel Boulud. Then Jeanetti graduated with honors. After years of working in New York, he was wooed by Miami's weather and charm... and one of its heaviest culinary hitters: Jonathan Eismann. Eventually, after working closely with Michael Schwartz, the sand, sea, and soil became his main areas of focus. Now at the helm of Essensia in The Palms Hotel & Spa, Jeannetti lives and breathes the restaurant's concept: "Food that's good for the body and soul. Global, organic, supporting local farmers, fisherman, cattlemen... local seafood, Florida grass-fed organic beef, free-range chicken, fresh whole wheat pastas... Good, clean, healthy food."
Here's more from Chef Green Jeans:
New Times: How did you end up in Boulud's kitchen?
Frank Jeannetti: He's my first mentor. One of my teachers got me in there. He's a sweetheart of a guy, so passionate about what he does. Seeing his talent has made me as creative as I am today. He would just come up with dishes that weren't on the menu and just blow me away.
My first restaurant job was with Jonathan Eismann. We worked together in New York in '87. It was on Columbus. Right across the street from the Museum of Natural History. Jonathan was doing Californian-Asian at the time. He was on that low-calorie, steamed vegetable this-and-that. He was on to something back then.
I left and worked with Patrick Clark and got some Southern-style flair. Now I had that, and the French cooking with Daniel, all kinds of cooking from the Waldorf, and real high volume.
And how did you end up in Miami?
Believe it or not, Jonathan again. I was New York doing something in the Hamptons. He called me up... and said he had checked the scene out in Miami. He said it was really hot and starting to happen. And Lincoln Road was starting to go. I came down here and we opened Pacific Time together. I did that for about two-and-a-half years.
And eventually you worked with Michael Schwartz at Nemo, correct?
Nemo still wasn't open but Michael would come sit at the counter at Pacific Time and talk. I went back to the Hamptons and got a call. After Nemo opened it was very hot and happening. Michael was trying to gear up and he said, "I want to offer you a full-time gig."
You were his sous?
No, I was his executive chef at Nemo. He was the corporate guy. He gave me full reign. I think that's what put me on the map in Miami. I worked there for three years. That's where I started adapting to what was going on in Miami. Nemo was where I could go off-board from Asian.
Is that where you got an appreciation for local and sustainable eats?
But at that point the organic scene was dismal.
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Know what? Michael was on the forefront of this thing from the beginning. He had a garden at his house, we planted a garden at my house. Together we would grow herbs and tomatoes and bring them to work. We started sourcing fish out of California that was on this path of sustainability. That was in '97.
There was this guy working for us--we had garbage pails for food scraps only--we would load them on his truck and he would turn it into compost and grow vegetables and fruits for us. Skip. We called it Skip's Garden. Gabrielle [from Paradise Farms] and those other folks in the Redlands weren't happening yet. But there was something to say about the flavors we were getting. They were far superior.
Click here for Part Two of this interview. You'll find out just how organic Essensia is (he suspect was honest), what role food-related charity plays in his life and career, and where he likes to touch people. (Hint: It's someplace where the sun don't shine.)