When the news was announced that Richard Hales was opening a Chinese restaurant, Miamians breathed a collective sigh of relief. After all, Miami is one of the few major cities that has a dearth of good, well-priced Chinese restaurants. (We even found a mini Chinatown in Rome.)
Although Hales, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, has a serious pedigree, his fast-casual restaurant, Sakaya Kitchen, and food truck, Dim Ssäm a Gogo, have brought the chef/restaurateur the most success and critical acclaim.
After the initial word that Blackbrick was to open, we had some questions for Hales about his newest endeavor and his current restaurants, and he agreed to update us on all of his projects. Here's what he said about travel as inspiration, expanding Sakaya Kitchen, and where you can catch Dim Ssäm a Gogo.
New Times: What made you want to work with Chinese cuisine?
Richard Hales: I cook what I love to eat and have been inspired by my travels in the east at Sakaya Kitchen and Blackbrick. I eat Chinese food often and I am simply tired of bad Chinese food in Miami. Chinese food is about sitting around a table filled with family style plates of crispy meat, steaming dumplings, fragrant rice, slippery noodles, crunchy vegetables and flavorful sauces without breaking the bank or getting overloaded with chemicals. Blackbrick aspires to be all that and more.
Will Blackbrick be a meld of different Chinese regional offerings -- if so which ones?
The menu for Blackbrick will concentrate on places I visited, and will include great dishes from all over China. Northeast Chinese food is different from the Southern part of China or the type of Chinese we are used to in America. It still plays off the elements that make all Asian food great - sweet, sour, bitter and salty - but in a very hearty way with less sugar. The flavors are bold and in your face -- the way I like it. Blackbrick will be more than about wok-frying and roasting. Itt will include curing, smoking, fermenting and pickling. There'll be a lot of lamb, seasonal vegetables and fruit, plus local fish and seafood. We will take the time to make our own infused vinegars, oils, soy milk and sauces to create layers of flavor without all the chemicals in bottled pre-made crap.
Will the cuisine be a "creative fusion" like Sakaya Kitchen, which offers your take on Korean/Asian flavors placed onto American favorites like tots and burgers?
I was trained by the father of Asian fusion, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, so there will always be an element of "creative fusion" in my cooking. I am also Filipino, Italian and Irish so fusion is in my blood. With Blackbrick we will focus less on fusion and more on updating the food with great ingredients. I'm not sure a General Tso's burger will hit the menu but you never know. Our fusion dishes will be like "explosive Ossabaw pork with jalapeno,fragrant onion & fat hydrated mushrooms" or vegan dishes like "house made tofu skin with pickled green onion, braised wood ear fungus, and smoked garlic barley."
Why did you choose the old Acme space?
It chose me. The landlord is a big fan of Sakaya Kitchen and contacted me when the space became available. It makes sense for me, as I just have to walk across and can be involved with both all day long. Midtown is my home; I was the first chef to take a chance there when everyone said I was crazy so I am happy to expand within walking distance of Sakaya Kitchen.
Why are you choosing a "sit down" waiter service approach to Blackbrick, instead of the Sakaya Kitchen "fast casual"?
My brand is maturing and I am ready to take on the challenge of a full-service restaurant. When I opened Sakaya Kitchen in 2009 there were no "chef-driven" fast casual restaurants in Miami and it was needed. Now I see the need for great Chinese and I am going for it by taking what we know of Chinese food, take-out, dim sum and typical "chef specialties" and making it in my style.
A while back, you were planning to expand Sakaya Kitchen, with restaurants in southwest Dade and Broward. What is the status of that?
We have a signed deal for Sakaya Kitchen in Kendall and were supposed to be open this year but it is delayed. If Sakaya Kitchen, Kendall will happen it won't be until mid-2014. We are looking to have Sakaya Kitchen in Pembroke Pines or Plantation and possibly South Miami at some point. Without partners I am happy to let the growth come organically and open new concepts like Blackbrick. I am not interested in a restaurant chain and want to treat each location as if it is a stand-alone restaurant serving its neighborhood.
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What's the status of your food truck, Dim Ssam a Gogo?
Dim Ssam a Gogo is as good as it's always been. We're busy with catering but as a result are very selective on which organized truck round-ups we send it to. We currently only go to my event in Wynwood on Second Saturdays and Ms. Cheezious' event in Miami Beach. The truck is mainly kept busy with private party and production catering and we are speaking with a luxury hotel at the moment to park it there for three months.