Just as musicians play with different harmonies and beats to get a tune just right, chefs, too, need to experiment, step outside their tried-and-true, and gage reactions from the audience. That’s where chef Michael Jacobs comes in. His Hidden Kitchen dining experience matches chefs who’re opening new spots with a sophisticated test audience of Miami gastronomes. The clandestineish dinners are candle-lit affairs in a curtain-rimmed dining room at the back of the Imperial House condo just north of the Eden Roc Miami Beach. Jacobs gets a kick out of tossing his chef friends together with diners ready to share their thoughts with the people who just created their meals.
This kind of foodie freestyle environment makes sense considering Jacobs’s culinary background. He first fell in love with food at age 6, when eating his grandmother’s daily feinkochen (a thin Jewish omelet). “I would get to make the egg with her after a while,” he says, “then she and I would sit and watch Julia Child. That’s the first time I thought, Oh, this is kinda cool.” By age 10, Jacobs was helping out in the kitchen of his father’s catering business (he actually catered his own bar mitzvah—a selection of spring rolls, vegetable sushi, and twice-cooked chicken), and at a later event witnessed customers’ adoration for his dad. “Everyone was standing up applauding him for the meal they just had. I remember thinking, I could do this!”
As a young man he apprenticed in Europe, working at Michelin-starred spots such as Le Gavroche in London, Restaurant de Bacon in southern France, and École Ritz Escoffier in Paris. But it was New York’s thigh-deep blizzard of 1996 that drove him to Miami. Later that year, he was catering for Adrienne Arsht at her Key Biscayne home, then became executive chef at Tantra Restaurant and Lounge in its late-’90s heyday. Catering and personal-chef work followed, including providing food for the Miami Heat.
Today, through his Strategic Hospitality Group Miami, he caters, acts as a personal chef to Miami VIPs and professional athletes, and consults for restaurants coming to Miami. When LeBron James and Chris Bosh committed to the Heat, Jacobs coached their personal chefs on the ins and outs of sourcing good food in Miami. He has fed the Heat for the past four seasons, where Wade’s favorite meal was the breakfast burrito with turkey, scrambled eggs, low-fat Cheddar, and chopped tomato topped with healthy barbecue sauce. Currently he caters for the coaches (coach Spoelstra’s smoothie of choice: blueberries, coconut milk, flax seed, protein powder, bananas, and açai berry). Jacobs’s latest project, The Hidden Kitchen, takes place twice a month and has evolved into a culinary playground for chef buddies such as Jeff O’Neil of Porcao Farm to Grill and Jose Mendin of the Pubbelly Group. Twenty to 35 guests might try someone’s new rabbit ravioli and give feedback. Some of Jacobs’s favorite test dishes include a mango pulled turkey with leekand-corn fondue, and croquetas made with brisket, truffles, and three-cheese macaroni. “Not the healthiest dish in the world,” he laughs, “but it’s mighty tasty!” The Hidden Kitchen, 5255 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-868-7442