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Q&A with AltaMare Executive Chef Simon Stojanovic

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For the past three months, executive chef Simon Stojanovic, has been working in the kitchen of longtime local favorite AltaMar developing dishes for the restaurant's sister, AltaMare, expected to open next week.

Claudio Giordano's AltaMar will close its doors the day AltaMare's doors open, just half a block from the original on the west end of Lincoln Road. The menu will change almost entirely, but Stojanovic will retain some of AltaMar's favorites, including a fish of the day special and several of AltaMar's pasta dishes.

"We want to move forward instead of staying in one place and I think that's why Claudio [Giordano] brought me on, because he wants to change the direction of his business and take it to another level."

The new restaurant will seat 120, has a private dining room and a

chef's table, where diners will be able to see what goes on inside the

open kitchen.

I know you've worked for Michael's, Nemo and the Setai but can you walk me through your background and tell me how you got here?

I'm a native Australian and I studied and learned how to cook in Australia. It's a four-year apprenticeship. I then left Australia in 96 and traveled to England and worked there for two years. During that period of time I spent six months in the French Alps working for a chalet, which was a dream.

After then I moved to Barbados for a year and half and enjoyed the lifestyle down there and the beaches and getting by. And then moved to Miami and worked for Michael at Nemo's, that's where I met him, and then left to go to New York, to Long Island and I worked with my friend Joe Isidori up there, who was a sous chef for Michael. And then within a period of a year, I moved to Colorado with my wife, and then moved back to New York and helped Joe open Donald Trump's golf course out in New Jersey, then moved back to Colorado ... and then we came back to Miami.

I stayed in contact with Michael. When I came back I helped him do a little venture that never panned out. Through him I got hooked up with the Setai and I was at the Setai for a year - I opened the Setai. Then a couple of consulting gigs and I knew Michael was opening up in the Design District so we got back in touch - I never really lost touch with him - so I kinda knew that I was going to be his sous chef. I was there for just under three years.

And then you came here?

And then ... yeah, now it's my turn to shine.

Aside from the space, how will AltaMar and ALTAMARE differ?

It's going to be the menu and everything about ALTAMARE is going to be different. We're expanding, we've revamped the menu, it's pretty much a totally new menu. There will be some old favorite dishes there.

We're also introducing a lot of steaks as well. A 24-ounce rib eye, bone-in, a classic French dish, torchon Rossini, basically it's a tenderloin cooked medium-rare, served on a toast and on top of it is a piece of foie gras and a bordelaise sauce. We're going to be using a local farm, or not local to Miami, but you know it's grass-fed, well looked after beef, so it's a nice dish. We're going to do a dry aged sirloin, some skirt steak sandwiches. Interesting stuff.

A lot of the focus will be on local, seasonal ingredients ...

Local products, not so much organic per se, but definitely local product, locally grown like heirloom tomatoes and micro greens from Paradise Farms.

Was that important to you?

Working with Michael for so long and what Michael's all about with his food and what he does with it, basically it's the same with me now, thanks to Michael. So yeah, if I can use a local product and a good product, I'll use it.

Is the seafood local?

Majority of the seafood is local. We have our mussels and clams from the Pacific Northwest, our scallops are from the Maine area, some of the shrimp we use is from South Africa. Salmon, of course, is from the Northwest. But the majority of the seafood we're using is local. We're using a company out of Cape Canaveral called Wild Ocean. A lot of those places were sourced by Michael and I was using them while I was there so I have a very good relationship with them.

Is the plan to change items on the menu based on what's available?

Well you know, like with yellow jack, for example, I can't always get yellow jack. If I can't get local yellow jack I won't use it, the same with grouper, snapper, Wahoo, so you know, if it's not available, I just won't use it and I'll just take it off the menu. The flexibility of being able to change the menu daily is great because, you know, if you don't have it, you don't put it on, do something else. And it keeps you fresh, trying new dishes, new combinations of food. It keeps you on your toes.

What's your favorite dish on the menu?

Hm. That's a tough one.

Favorite two?

I'm using beef liver from Deep Creek Farms, which is the grass-fed beef, and I'm making a pate out of it and I use Wild Turkey Bourbon with it, to give it that smoky, sweet flavor, and I'm serving that with an heirloom tomato and cipollini onion chutney. But the pate is in a little ramekin and I melt foie gras, little chunks of foie gras, and I melt it very slowly so all the fat is released. I take the fat out and I put it over top of the pate and then slice the little bits of foie gras and put that on top, so it's like a, like a little dish of heaven. You get the beef liver with the bourbon and the foie gras and the chutney on a toasted crostini so it's good.

And right now is Golden Tile season, so I'm using that with a Carolina gold risotto, fresh Meyer lemon, fresh sage and pistachio.

Sounds good

It is good.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?

Michael has been a very big influence, only because I've been working with him for the majority of the last five years since I've been back in Miami. Yeah, I'd have to say he was my biggest influence.

How have you seen the Miami dining scene change?

Well, working for Michael I saw a sort of change over there in the Design District. Michelle Bernstein moved over there, Jonathan Eisman and Fratelli Lyon. Those four have been a big driving force in the Miami cooking scene today, especially Michael because of his style of cooking. I think within the last three years it's changed a bit.

What do you hope for ALTAMARE?

I hope it to be just as busy as Michael's. [Laughs] We'll see, you know, I hope it's successful. I hope to do good food there and I hope whoever comes to eat has a wonderful experience and keeps coming back.

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