There’s an ominous feeling as Conor Hanlon looks ahead after wrapping a four year stint as chef de cuisine at The Dutch inside the W Hotel.
“Miami is always on the bandwagon looking for the next big thing rather than giving local chefs support,” he says
He’s taking two months off to travel with his family through the Southeast and midwest. He'll disconnect from the world in upstate New York, and figure out what's next.
“There have been a few things on the table here locally and a few in other cities,” he says of the four “viable” options that have emerged. “I don’t want to jump into something because it seems good on paper.”
The 32-year-old who helped The Dutch to become an integral part of the Miami dining scene worked at Andrew Carmellini’s place, but excelled in offering an ever-changing menu stocked with precisely cooked local fish alongside elegant house-made pastas. He’s been a fixture at one-off food events like Jeremiah Bullfrog’s PIG (Pork Is Good) and at dinners put on by the underground dining group Cobaya. Each summer he has combined forces with some of Miami’s favorite restaurants for weekly all-you-can-eat barbecues on the W’s pool deck.
His next project won’t be housed inside a large hotel or include overseeing the entire outfit’s food and beverage operations, he says. It’ll be something smaller, in a place where he can touch every plate. It also won’t be on Miami Beach, Design District, or any of the city’s other hip neighborhoods.
“The Design District is astronomical, it’s $175,000 a month,” Hanlon said. “They’re making it really hard for people to succeed.”
More than that, however, is that Miami’s incessant obsession with shiny new hotels and celebrity chefs makes up-and-comers wary of striking out on their own.
“Faena is bringing (Francis) Mallmann and Paul Qui, and they’re building them multi-million dollar restaurants,” Hanlon said.
To be sure, a handful of local cooks made good have taken on higher profiles in recent months. Among them are Alter’s Bradley Kilgore, Danny Serfer of Mignonette and Macchialina’s Michael Pirolo who has a forthcoming Asian concept on Ocean Drive. Still though the out-of-towners continue to flock. Fabio Viviani’s cavernous Miami Beach restaurant was an open-and-shut job while the city has also spawned a new Stephen Starr restaurant. Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft, Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos’ El Cielo, and Quality Meats Miami Beach have all recently planted flags.
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“Just imagine if either one of our guys were given a platform like Faena with all amazing plate ware, staffing, everything they needed,” Hanlon said. “We bitch we don’t get any attention during James Beard season, but we don’t invest in our chefs.”
Still, he hasn’t completely ruled out Miami.
“I think i have a good reputation here, I know all my farmers and vendors, I have all my cooks,” Hanlon said. “It’s a big battle inside my head to figure out the right thing."