Miami's dining scene is buzzing with excitement after two local chefs, siblings Valerie and Nando Chang, have earned some very well-deserved national recognition.
Last week, the brother-and-sister duo were selected among Food and Wine's Best New Chefs of 2023. While Valerie was honored for her work at Peruvian newcomer Maty's, Nando was recognized for his work at Miami gem Itamae.
Then, just days later, Bon Appétit named Valerie's six-month-old tribute to her grandmother one of the best new restaurants in the nation, earning it the added honor of being the only Florida restaurant to make the list. And, this week, it received yet another nod from the New York Times' newly minted "Restaurant List."
Reeling from the sudden press, 34-year-old Nando tells New Times that the recent accolade as one of Food and Wine's best new chefs is bittersweet given the upcoming closing of Itamae, the family's beloved Nikkei restaurant that is set to reopen as an omakase concept later this year.
"We knew that our restaurants were among the great things happening in Miami, but this level of recognition was totally unexpected," shares Nando. "Then came the Maty's award, which made me extremely happy and excited for my sister."
Valerie tells New Times that she's been overwhelmed by all the attention and is currently pondering what it will mean for her restaurant — and its future.
"I'm extremely proud of my team, as we've worked tremendously hard to shape the restaurant into what it is today," says Valerie.
Reflecting on Maty's evolution since its March opening, Valerie explains that her original vision was to create a neighborhood spot where patrons could find traditional Peruvian cooking with generous portions and a primary focus on meat-based dishes.
"As the months passed, it became increasingly clear that Maty's was becoming a destination restaurant, with the majority of guests coming from other Miami neighborhoods to dine with us," she shares, adding that the menu has experienced a significant shift, predominantly featuring seafood and vegetable items, with only a handful of meat options remaining.
Both siblings agree that Maty's cuisine is hard to pin down and doesn't fit within the confines of traditional, modern, or contemporary Peruvian fare. Instead, it's a personal fusion inspired by Valerie's Peruvian-Chinese roots while strongly emphasizing seasonal ingredients.
Valerie is enthusiastic about the growing number of vegetable-centric dishes taking center stage on Maty's menu. She meticulously sources produce from small farms across the country and elevates their flavors by roasting them in a wood-stone pizza oven, infusing them with a distinctive blend of Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) influences.
A standout example is the cauliflower dish: a steak-sized slice that's charred to perfection before a generous coating of huancaina, a creamy cheese sauce made with aji amarillo chili peppers, and finished with a sprinkling of crispy dried shrimp for a spicy, zesty punch. The result is a mix of flavors and textures that's uniquely Maty's, explains the chef.
In homage to her grandmother Maty, who adored whole fish prepared with steamed soy-based sauce, Valerie also introduced a whole-roasted dorade to the menu, a meaty white-fleshed fish that's paired with a rich aji amarillo beurre blanc.
Another dish close to Valerie's heart is the oxtail saltado, which preserves the essential ingredients from her grandmother's lomo saltado stir-fry while substituting the traditional tenderloin steak with a slow-braised oxtail. The dish exhibits a fall-apart tenderness and umami depth combined with earthy notes from shiitake mushroom and crispy, yellow Peruvian potatoes for a rich and flavorful twist on a Peruvian staple.
Maty's has also embraced the culinary talent from Itamae during its temporary closure. Nando expresses his satisfaction with the arrangement, saying, "We're happy that we've been able to keep the staff during these months of transition and bring their experience and point of view to Maty's kitchen."
Looking to the future, Valerie aims to support the culinary community by hosting special dinners with guest chefs from around the country and up-and-coming South Florida talent. This week, she hosts David Chang's team from Momofuku Ko for a sold-out pop-up event to offer a special menu in collaboration with the acclaimed restaurant. Moving forward, look for similar collaboration dinners available to book via Resy.
"Consistency is key. We want to keep it up while also continuously evolving and improving the restaurant," Val says. "I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished with the team and excited to see what the future brings for us."
Maty's. 3255 NE First Ave., Miami; matysmiami.com