Jamie DeRosa on Tongue & Cheek's First Anniversary

On April 15, Tongue & Cheek, the playful South of Fifth restaurant by chef Jamie DeRosa, will celebrate its first anniversary. Truthfully, it seems like the restaurant has been around a lot longer.

During its brief existence, chef/owner Jamie DeRosa has attracted a faithful clientele of locals -- along with a respectable list of celebrity chefs including Geoffrey Zakarian, Masaharu Morimoto, and Norman Van Aken. He's also run a successful dinner series, Kitchen Collab, where DeRosa partners with other chefs including Lindsay Autry, Robert Irvine, and Van Aken, and has won a host of awards, including a Best of Miami nod for Best Bar Program in 2013.

See also: At South Beach's Tongue & Cheek, Jamie DeRosa Gets Frisky

To celebrate, DeRosa is offering a host of anniversary specials from April 15 to 20 as a thank-you. Specials include $2 beef cheek sliders and $4 whiskey sours (both available during lunch and dinner). In addition, all dinner guests will receive a complimentary dessert -- a dish of salted pretzel ice cream with cashew praline, coffee cake, and blackberry.

DeRosa has also created a special five-course anniversary dinner menu ($65 per person, excluding tax and gratuity), comprising the restaurant's "biggest hits" chosen by restaurant patrons through a social media campaign. Possible items include the restaurant's cauliflower panna cotta with pickled vegetables and American caviar; crisp lamb belly with barbecued octopus, roasted eggplant, and romanesco; or fried clams with smoked aioli and pickled and raw cherry peppers.

Fans can choose the items they would like on the special menu by letting the chef know on Twitter @tandcmiami. The chef will then create the menu based on popularity.

We asked DeRosa, whose culinary career includes working with the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Heston Blumenthal, and Geoffrey Zakarian, to tell us about the challenges and high points of Tongue & Cheek's first year. Here's what he shared:

New Times: How does it feel to have your first anniversary of T&C?

Jamie DeRosa: Having [my daughter] Isabela and opening a restaurant in the same year has been both the most challenging and the most rewarding time of my life. Working with such an amazing group of people every day who strive to be the best, but yet remain humble, is a large part of our success. T&C staff's commitment to bringing the Cheek to life each and every day with each and every guest is a true testament to the growing community here in Miami, and we are honored to be part of it.

What were your expectations going into the restaurant?

All we ever wanted to do was to open a neighborhood restaurant that both Miami locals and visitors could enjoy. The outpouring of support by our customers and the press was never expected but certainly appreciated. Our expectations in year one were certainly exceeded, and we can't wait to see what's in store for year two.

If you could talk to one-year-younger Jamie, what would you tell him?

Take time to sit back and enjoy the ride. We get so caught up in the everyday operations it's hard to take a step back, relax, and be happy with what we are building.

What is the biggest surprise about opening your own restaurant?

To be completely tongue-in-cheek for a moment, it really does take a village. I have to say that I am not so much surprised but rather appreciative of the many people who have diligently worked together to get us through our first year. These folks have grown into a family.

A restaurant has to be nurtured constantly. What have you done to change or grow Tongue & Cheek?

We have most of our opening team still here, so nurturing comes easy when people want to learn, want to be inspired, and are happy to come to work every day. Sure, we have our challenges like most, but we have always stayed true to our goal of being honest with who we were, what we were cooking, and our vision.

You worked for some A-listers in the culinary world. What are the pros and cons of working for someone versus going out on your own?

I've always enjoyed being part of a team. Most people who have never worked for an A-lister think it's about the glory or fame of that individual. It's not. It's about being part of a team who all share in the passion of that restaurant or the culture, technique, or philosophy of the chef.

When I worked for Wolfgang Puck, it was about the simplicity of food with the caring of ingredients and the culture of the team. Heston was about drive, determination, focus, creativity, and completely different from anything else because I wasn't the chef; I was a cook, a challenge in and of itself when you have already led a brigade. When I was with Geoffrey Zakarian, it was about his business acumen and his ability to inspire those around him. His methods are simple -- cook great food, surround yourself with great people, and be their leader.

What all of these A-listers share is the ability to inspire a team, lead by example, and provide a platform for others to be successful. I only hope that my team feels the same about their leader one day.

You're really good at promoting the restaurant on social media and getting out in front of the public. Do you, as a chef/restaurateur, feel that's mandatory these days? That the food alone can't be the sole driving force?

In today's digital media world, being a good cook is not enough. Good food and good service is always the driving force and will keep people coming back, but how the chef or owner relates to the public and community is equally important. I truly believe that it is just as important to promote your neighboring restaurants and chefs in the community as it is to promote yourself. Miami is slowly becoming a city of great restaurants and people working together to do amazing things. It's this collaboration of everyone working together that creates success. You can't be part of the growth just from behind the stove.

You mentioned your daughter earlier. Would you want Isabela to take over someday? Clearly, Tom Colicchio is planning by naming his new restaurant Colicchio & Sons. Would you do a DeRosa & Daughter?

I'm not going to lie. I have thought of many concepts to open with her name or personality, but it's too soon think of what to leave her. She's 18 months, so I'm thinking more of what to teach her every day than what to leave her. [My wife] Amy would love to open a food-friendly children's shop where you can walk in, order, or take away healthy, fresh food. Think JugoFresh but for toddlers!

What's on the plate for next year? Any more kitchen collabs?

Yes. We will be bringing back the kitchen collabs. Stay tuned!

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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